Gaza on Hold as Arabs Bicker
As two unilaterally declared ceasefires progress uneasily in the Gaza Strip, there is one aspect of this business that nobody can argue with: the real losers in Israel’s war on Gaza are the Palestinians living there. The latest statistics are mind numbing. In just 22 days, 1,415 Palestinians have been killed, including whole families. More than 5,400 have been injured, with 400 people lying critically wounded in badly equipped hospitals. Eighty percent of the agricultural land and crops were destroyed by Israeli fire. Approximately 4,100 housing units were completely leveled, while 17,000 buildings were partially damaged. This includes 25 schools, hospitals and universities, and 1,500 workshops and factories. In addition, the equivalent of 50 kilometers of road was also destroyed, not to mention water and sewage pipes, and the only power station in the area. According to preliminary estimates, the total direct economic losses have reached approximately $1.9 billion so far.
Then there are the immeasurable problems that will appear weeks, months and years down the line, such as the psychological effects of this aggression on youths and children, not to mention the adults. How does one recover from the trauma Gazans have experienced, and how can one estimate the inestimable? In short, how does an entire area recover from such a devastating blow as this?
As the extent of the destruction in Gaza becomes more and more apparent, Arab leaders gathered together in Kuwait earlier this week to bandy about Marshall-like reconstruction plan ideas on how to 'fix' Gaza. Regrettably, this Arab League summit began and ended in dissonance. Israel’s war on Gaza has not only further divided internal Palestinian factions, it has managed to cause friction amongst Arab states. The summit pledged $2 billion to help reconstruct Gaza, but discord reared its ugly head when member states began arguing about how the money would actually reach Gaza. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are loathe to give the funds to Hamas, who administer the Strip, while Syria and Iran encourage this. Attempts to find a common position on the conflict in Gaza and towards Israel also failed. Qatar and Syria were in favor of announcing a firm stance against Israel, recommending that Arab nations sever all ties with it, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia suggested that the roots of the conflict were more complicated than that, hinting at alleged Iranian interference.
Matters were not helped when Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni demanded that no funds should reach the coffers of Hamas. To complicate matters, Israel is now insisting that the UN and any other organizations, humanitarian or otherwise, obtain Israeli 'permission' before implementing pledges. Israel has also produced a list of materials that are not allowed into Gaza, lest they be used in ‘terrorist’ activities. They have even gone as far as assigning a new Israeli coordinator for reconstruction, Yitzhak Hertzog. And to make the situation even more desperate, Khaled Mesha’al, a senior leader of Hamas based in Damascus, is likely to announce very soon that no aid will be accepted if it circumvents Hamas.
Amr Moussa, the usually upbeat Secretary General of the Arab League, understandably sounded out of countenance in his post-summit press conference, admitting that the Arab state of affairs remains troubled and tense. "We tried to start rebuilding after the important speech by [Saudi] King Abdallah [calling for an end to discord]. But things are still not back to normal, in my view, and we must make intensive efforts in order to repair the damage."
This sad state of affairs only stokes the fire beneath rumors that this discord and friction is exactly what Israel wants to see. Many suggest that Israel, instead of dealing with one Palestinian state, would prefer to deal with a Gaza Strip that is under the control of Egypt, and a West Bank (or what remains of the West Bank after Israel has completed its land grabbing scheme) under Jordanian control. This also fits in with the oft-proffered solution that Arab countries simply absorb and naturalize Palestinian refugees. One often reads editorials and comments calling on Arab countries to absorb Palestinians, just as Israel ‘absorbed and integrated’ Jewish immigrants (the key here being only Jewish immigrants) after its establishment in 1948. The authors of such suggestions usually accuse Arab countries of ‘compelling’ the UN to maintain a complex system of refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. As such, Gaza would be the current Egyptian version of this 60-year Arab-induced horror show.
Alas, there is a very simple reason why Arab countries cannot just absorb millions of Palestinian refugees. Not to mention the entirely selfish but logical reason that this would be a large burden on those countries’ resources, more importantly, absorption would absolve Israel of any responsibility for creating these refugees in the first place. The inescapable fact is that Israel either expelled or forced thousands of Palestinians to run from their homes in fear. Ironically, the original residents of cities like Ashkelon and Sderot are now the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Israel must admit and take responsibility for this. Most Arab governments also strongly oppose the naturalization of Palestinian refugees because it is important that the Palestinian identity of the individuals and their status as refugees be ‘preserved’. This is necessary to safeguard their right of return, or at least, their right to be justly compensated for a catastrophe that was not of their making.
Returning to the current plight of Gazans however, Arab countries are now likely to continue bickering amongst themselves, while Hamas, Fateh, and other Palestinian factions quarrel about unity talks, assuming they are ever restarted. Eventually, funds will filter through somehow, and the UN will rebuild its compounds and schools. All the while, Gazans will shake their heads and wonder if and how they can resume their daily lives. And no doubt, Israel will simply sit back and be much amused by all of this.
The one thing that Palestinians could do to throw cold water over Israel’s amusement would be to truly unite and once again champion the Palestinian aspiration of statehood.