It seems that Arabs’ habit of claiming disasters as victories is still alive and kicking. This habit has brought many tragedies upon the region and its people, who continue to pay the price. Yet admitting one’s defeat or mistakes, no matter how bitter they are, is the way forward, as it prompts one to review and reconsider causes, and in the process learn lessons about how to avoid repeating them.
In the recent Gaza war it is hard to talk about one side emerging victorious, though the residents of the territory were the biggest losers. More than 2,000 civilians were killed and thousands more injured. Over a quarter of Gaza’s population have been displaced due to the destruction of their homes. The horrific footage of destruction coming out of Gaza City reflects the disastrous situation on the ground, while Hamas leaders roam its ruined streets talking about their victory. The reconstruction of the enclave will cost at least 7 billion US dollars and take between 10 and 15 years. And who will risk their money by investing in Gaza, when there is no guarantee that a similar clash will not erupt every year or two?
The speech that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave in Cairo a few days ago reflected his bitterness at Hamas’s claim of having won a victory after it had led Gaza to destruction. The Islamist movement’s attempts to involve the West Bank in its war have failed. No one denies Israel’s responsibility for the massive destruction it inflicted on the enclave and its people. The international community has condemned Israel’s policy of collective punishment and its use of disproportionate power. Israel realizes that most of Hamas’s rockets are primitive and can cause only limited damage. But who gave Israel the pretext and opportunity to respond in such a manner in the first place?
It is hard to pose such a question at a time of war, with emotions running high and blood being shed. On the other hand, the Palestinian issue enjoys a special status in all Arab countries. The real question is: how long will this cause remain a political football in other struggles, with some Palestinian factions serving as tools for others?
The real crisis of Gaza began with the division of the Palestinians when Hamas forcibly took over control of the enclave. Hamas’s actions have led to the creation of two rival authorities on the ground: one, the Palestinian Authority (PA), in Ramallah; the other, Hamas, in Gaza—a situation that has resulted in the Islamist organization attempting to compete with and delegitimize the PA.
After the shutting down of Gaza’s tunnels into Egypt, from which Hamas generated profit by levying taxes on the movement of goods, pressures grew on the Islamist movement, leading it to agree to form a national unity government with the PA. In reality, Hamas did not intend to grant the new government the powers it needed to carry out its duties on the ground. Abbas has complained about Hamas’s behavior and threatened to pull out of the agreement, which is yet to be finalized. It seems that the real problem for Hamas lies in the suspension of the payment of salaries to its supporters appointed to government positions. It has asked the PA to pay out the salaries, but lacks the political influence to compel it to do so. In fact, the recent war on Gaza comes within this context: it is largely an attempt on the part of Hamas to avoid a major financial crisis threatening to destroy its authority.
Today there is talk of an international conference on the reconstruction of Gaza. But the political picture remains unclear. As long as Hamas insists on controlling the Gaza Strip, and continues to prevent the PA and the national unity government from exercising their duties, there will be neither funds nor investment.
Such a conference may offer a true chance for real solutions, leading to a comprehensive settlement on the Palestinian issue. It may also provide international political commitment towards Palestine and place restrictions on Israel to prevent it from planning similar adventures or threatening the enclave in the future. It may also open the door to a comprehensive settlement on the Palestinian issue.
But in order for this to happen, the PA must return to Gaza and a responsible political leadership must be created, one that takes the people’s needs into account, is able to impose its control on the ground, and is able to sign international agreements. Other than that, there can be no way of making this a reality.