Historical Context Absent from Gaza Commentary

Historical Context Absent from Gaza Commentary

As published in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2019, pp. 5-7

Recent commentary on Hamas’ role in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reminds me that historical context is often missing from coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Many pundits are correct in stating that Hamas’ hostility to Israel affects its involvement in UNRWA. However, it would be odd if Hamas, as the duly elected government of Gaza, played no role in the U.N. body responsible for the well-being of Gaza’s Palestinian residents. Until Israel’s illegal blockade is lifted and Gazan residents are free to work and trade, UNRWA remains necessary.

Hamas’ leadership has been very hostile to the Israeli state, even going so far as to question its right to exist. However, this is no different from Binyamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 declaration that there would be “no Palestinian state on his watch…” or the 2004 comments of a senior Ariel Sharon adviser who said that, “…when you freeze that [peace] process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem.”

While Israeli fears of Hamas violence seem realistic, some scholars believe that the Netanyahu government has a cynical understanding with Hamas leadership to maintain a certain level of tension and “tit for tat” violence. In this way, Hamas’ leaders protect their privileged positions while Israel’s leadership uses regular military campaigns to impress their own citizens. Politicians have done far worse than this.

Of course, if a foreign state controls your borders, air space, coastline and natural resources with overwhelming military force, you are under occupation. Although Gaza’s soil and water is badly polluted by Israeli munitions, it could prosper if Israel and also Egypt were to respect its borders, coast and air space. Israel claims Gaza’s offshore natural gas and its navy harasses Palestinian fishermen. The tiny strip features beautiful beaches, a potential fishery, offshore natural gas resources and residents eager to work and engage with the world.

Peace is possible, but Netanyahu and previous Israeli prime ministers have consistently refused to heed the advice of Israeli security services on Gaza and the West Bank. I really fear that the Israeli people will eventually pay a high price for the intransigence of their political class.

Morgan Duchesney, Ottawa, Canada

Let’s not forget that Israel supported Hamas in its early days, as a way to undermine Yasser Arafat and the secular PLO. That’s just one reason that, for the phrase “often missing,” we would substitute “deliberately omitted.”