Let Gaza Live

If there is a lesson from the fiasco in Gaza, here it is: Starving, drying up and blocking aid do not sear the consciousness and do not weaken political movements. On the contrary.

Click here for more articles by Gideon Levy

Here is a success story: Israel and the West imposed a boycott on the Palestinian Authority with the aim of weakening Hamas, and a year and a half later this brilliant policy has yielded its fruits: Hamas has become stronger. If there is a lesson from the fiasco in Gaza, here it is: Starving, drying up and blocking aid do not sear the consciousness and do not weaken political movements. On the contrary.

Reality has refuted the chorus of experts and commentators who preached in behalf of the boycott policy. This daft notion that it is possible to topple an elected government by applying pressure on a helpless population suffered a complete failure. The world boycotted the unity government, which could perhaps have prevented the harsh scenes in Gaza if it had been allowed to rule, and consequently we received the alternative: the complete takeover of Gaza by Hamas in a military coup, tearing Gaza away from the West Bank. This is bad news.

It is possible to make a list of the fateful mistakes committed by Israel, the U.S. and Fatah, which led to what has happened, but the question now facing us is where to go from here.

Will we continue the boycott policy until an even more extreme and dangerous government arises in Gaza, such as the global jihad or Al-Qaida? Or will we internalize the fact that force will not succeed, that it is impossible to return to the status quo ante on the backs of this weak population and that we need to change direction?

Israel and the U.S. are now embracing Mahmoud Abbas. There is a considerable amount of hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness about this. Not long ago he was considered a leader with "plucked feathers." All of his requests and demands were rejected, one after another, and every effort was made to undermine his government. So what has changed now? There is no basis for claiming that the talk about the need to strengthen Abbas is designed to hurt Hamas. Gaza is lost. Fatah will not mount a comeback anytime soon in Gaza after its leaders fled to Ramallah, abandoning its people to the mercies of Hamas. It is very bad that Hamas took over Gaza, and Abbas should indeed be strengthened, but the limitations of this approach must be recognized: Things will not be as they were before.

We now have two Koreas: the West Bank as South Korea and Gaza as North Korea. Despite the demonization of Hamas and the glorification of Fatah, the two movements are very problematic. Gaza fell like a ripe fruit into the hands of Hamas mainly due to the socioeconomic differences between Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza is poorer, and thus has become more extreme. The thought that exacerbating hunger among its residents will change their minds and make them into lovers of Zion and America is mistaken: It will only make them more and more extreme. There is no alternative to adopting a nearly equal approach to the two new entities that have arisen: We need to help both of them. With or without Hamas, only a prosperous Gaza will change its direction.

Hamas is trying now to stabilize its rule after the brutal coup it conducted. Foreign journalists who visited Gaza in recent days report that there is quiet in the streets, very few armed men and checkpoints, and even a directive that prohibits men from walking around with their faces masked. Even the wars of the clans, which sliced up Gaza in recent months, have subsided a bit. The new Hamas-appointed commander of the police in Jabaliya, Mohammed Abu Sisi, said at the end of the week that his forces are capable, more than others, of putting an end to the anarchy. This is apparently correct.

Now we must also demand that the new leadership put an absolute end to the firing of Qassams on Israel and bring about the release of Alan Johnston and Gilad Shalit. If they do this, Israel and the world should lift the boycott and begin to enable Gaza to live. In the West Bank, of course, a series of broad steps should be initiated without delay: a complete cease-fire, removal of all the internal checkpoints, and a massive release of prisoners. Perhaps nothing sweet will emerge from Gaza, but every effort should be made to sweeten the bitter pill. The Israeli interest is to let Gaza live, even if the leadership is not to our liking.