Friday, Oct. 6, 2006
The attempt to coerce Hamas leaders by starving the Palestinian people has failed, and it is time for the international community to alleviate their suffering and resort to diplomacy.
Since elected Hamas members assumed a major role in the Palestinian National Authority, Israel and the United States (with uncomfortable acquiescence from the European Union) have deprived the people of humanitarian aid and have even withheld taxes and customs that belong to the Palestinian government. The Authority, headed by a Hamas cabinet and Fatah‘s Mahmoud Abbas as president, has not been able to pay its debts or to compensate police, teachers, nurses, or other public servants.
Gaza has been in a stranglehold since Israeli "withdrawal," with access to the outside world severely curtailed. The passage at Rafah is the Palestinians‘ only opening through the surrounding barrier that does not require passing through Israel, and it has been closed for all but 12 days during the last three months. The other gate, at Karni, provides extremely limited access into Israel, with the Palestinian West Bank about thirty miles away.
Inevitably, violence has broken out in Gaza among protesting citizens whose families are suffering because the Palestinian Authority has no means of paying for their services, and their agricultural and other products are blocked from sale to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, or other potential markets.
An aggravating factor has been the capture of an Israeli soldier, but efforts to swap him for the release of some of the several hundred Palestinian women and children being held prisoner by the Israelis so far have failed. Orchestrating this exchange is a role that could be played by the United States or the international community.
A majority of Israelis and Palestinians strongly support a comprehensive peace effort that could lead to a two-state solution for the Middle East conflict. There have been abortive efforts to form a "unity" Palestinian government within which such accommodation would be possible, but there is no likelihood of such an agreement among the disputing Palestinian factions or any progress toward reconciliation with Israel as long as the Palestinians are subjected to this kind of debasement and personal suffering.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for an easing of the Gaza imprisonment, calling it "the kind of daily humiliations that we know are associated with the occupation" of Palestine. A strong peace effort has been absent for the past five years. It is long overdue.