Monday, July 19, 2004


Wow, things are really cooking in Gaza. Armed militants control the streets, Arafat is more and more isolated, and settlers continue to pour into the Gaza Strip in defiance of Sharon's withdrawal initiative. I enjoyed this bit of verbal kung-fu:

A spokesman for the Settlers' Council, quoted by Associated Press, denied the settler leadership was trying to torpedo the disengagement plan by increasing settlement numbers.

It is about "strengthening the ideological core" of the settlement movement, he said.

Mmm, yes, that's just what we need at this point: strengthened ideologies. Lord knows they've been far too weak up until now.
Meanwhile, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Arafat still enjoys majority support among Palestinians, no other leader comes close to his numbers, though Hamas and other Islamist groups are gaining more support all the time.

Much of the blame for the situation goes to Arafat, who, in addition to being your basic authoritarian kleptocrat,has jealously guarded his status as sole representative of the aspirations of the Palestinian people and consistently undercut any perceived rivals. But there's no denying that Sharon has exacerbated the problem by trying to delegitimize Arafat. Rather than producing any kind of moderate Palestinian alternative, Sharon has, with Bush's help, only strengthened the position of Islamist militant groups in relation to the Palestinian Authority. It's hard for me to understant how Sharon could have imagined a different result. (It's also hard for me to imagine that Bush thought about it very much one way or the other.)

The irony here is that Israel allowed Islamist groups such as Hamas to flourish in the occupied territories in the hope that they would cut into Arafat and the PLO's support.

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies. 

Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.

According to documents United Press International obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism, Hamas evolved from cells of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were "weak and dormant" until after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over its Arab enemies.

After 1967, a great part of the success of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood was due to their activities among the refugees of the Gaza Strip. The cornerstone of the Islamic movements success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da'wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many who were living on the edge.

"Social influence grew into political influence," first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ah, the agony of unintended consequences. The essence of what Israeli hardliners, Sharon in particular, have been trying to achieve has been termed "politicide" by the Israeli writer Baruch Kimmerling. Essentially, the goal was to make a Palestinian State impossible both by using settlements to expropriate Palestinian land, and by diluting Palestinian nationalism with an Islamic alternative. Now, as head of the Israeli government, Sharon is having to deal with the consequences of his faction's succesful attempts to frustrate the development of Palestinian political institutions. It would be funny if it weren't so damn tragic.

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