First there was delight. Senior officials in Israel said that Egypt had taken on this trouble called Gaza. You could almost hear the chadenfreude in their voices. After not wanting to hear about Gaza or its refugees for a generation, Egypt received both, explosively. Now, at last, there will be a responsible country, and not Israel, to deal with the refugees.
Egypt will also have to safeguard the blasted gate, which looks like a modern sculpture, prevent the passage of explosives and terrorists and supervise the behavior of Hamas, because otherwise it will bear the consequences. The feeling is that Egypt has become a true enemy state at last, Syria-style. Just as Damascus is perceived as responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, so Cairo will be the custodian of Hamas. And what could be better for Israel than to have an address to turn to that is not an organization but a state, which at any given moment can have the screws applied to it in the form of sanctions that will affect not 1.5 million Palestinians but 75 million Egyptians?
Hey, Hamas really showed Egypt what's what this time. But this approach ignores two facts. First, it was not Egypt that breached the barrier. Egypt did what any humane country would be expected to do in this situation, albeit quite belatedly. It allowed hundreds of thousands of crushed people to enter its territory to stock up on what they have been unable to buy in Gaza for months, nearly two years, in fact. Egypt's government capitulated to public pressure, as every government is expected to do. President Hosni Mubarak understood that even his great loathing for Hamas could no longer justify his being dragged in the wake of an inhumane Israeli policy, the more so with masses of Egyptians demanding that he take action to save Palestinians, no matter how Israel defines them.
Egypt is not to blame. Verbal attacks on Cairo cannot change the second fact, either - that it is the Israeli government, with its failed policy, and not Egypt, that lost control of Gaza. The situation lurched out of the control of the decision makers who thought they could crush an entire population by stopping the supply of fuel and food and closing passages to commerce and the movement of people in need of medical care. They thought that these measures would foment a civil revolt against the Hamas leadership and thus end the Qassam rockets. The same decision makers are also responsible for the fact that Gaza will now be able to stock up on everything, including the potassium and other chemicals needed to manufacture Qassams and the money to underwrite that activity.
The policy makers who believed that it would be possible to ignore and boycott a legally elected Palestinian government, and thereby punish the population of the territories, found themselves facing a Hamas government in one territory, a government that is undermining the security of the people of the western Negev and the prestige of the state that is supposed to be protecting them. Moreover, the organization that is behind that government this week seized the monopoly on the entire peace process.
In the series of explosions that breached the wall of the Gaza prison, Hamas showed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an utterly ineffectual light. Sanctions? What further sanctions can be imposed when children, women, old men and goats are filmed walking leisurely, without panic, from Gaza to Egypt and back? A peace process? With whom? How pathetic Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sounded this week when he declared that it is impossible to conduct negotiations in the light of the situation in Gaza - as though there had been a process before that. He has not even secured the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Can Abbas sever the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and sign a peace treaty that refers to a reduced Palestinian state? Wasn't he the one who gave the size of Palestine as 6,000 square kilometers, including the Gaza Strip? In the meantime, however, he does not control Gaza, and Olmert's cabinet, which ordered the sanctions in Gaza, has now given Hamas a monopoly on the process. In this state of affairs, Avigdor Lieberman can rejoin the cabinet.
What happened last week was not just the breaching of a fence. It was a strategic shift that showed Israeli policy in its unvarnished folly. The conception of waging a war on terrorism by imprisoning an entire territory behind a fence has completely collapsed. The policy that aimed to foment civil revolt against the Hamas leadership has crashed, the monopoly that Israel held on the peace process has vanished, and the Palestinian partner will now find it far more difficult to conduct negotiations with Israel. And there is one more dangerous development. In Sinai there are now terrorists who can easily cross the breached fence along the border with Egypt. Given all this, who needs to wait for the Winograd Committee report?
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