Israel’s deadly attack on the “Freedom Flotilla” is proof of how Gaza continues to give Israel a taste of its own medicine. Intended to help solve Israel’s problems with Hamas, the three-year-old siege of Gaza is developing into a siege of Israel, while it causes tremendous damage to the country’s image around the world.
It should be clear to both Israel and the United States by now that the siege of Gaza has failed to accomplish its goals. Israel has failed to weaken Hamas, free Gilad Shalit or even put an end to arms smuggling.
To Israel’s dismay, Hamas has succeeded in putting the spotlight on Gaza and directing world attention to the country’s irrational policies toward not only the Palestinians, but also its own citizens.
From outside, the situation in Gaza may appear unsustainable for Hamas, but in fact the Islamic movement and its supporters are content to wait it out, calling Israel’s bluff on the blockade. Indeed some cynics believe the current status quo is the best situation the Palestinians have enjoyed in a long time.
Late last month, at the fifth annual Al Jazeera forum in Doha, Osama Hamdan of Hamas and Ibrahim el-Moussaoui of Hezbollah applauded and shook hands with Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a widely circulated pan-Arabist newspaper, when he said: “I have good news: There is a Palestinian split. Things have never been better before. One camp is with the Americans, the Israelis and seculars, and the other camp is with Iran and Islamists. So, if one side loses, the other is bound to win, and this has been the best and safest situation for the Palestinians in a long time.”
Atwan is known to favor the latter camp, and from his “good news,” one can surmise that he is betting it is on its way to winning – clearly with tremendous help from the siege of Gaza.
What is even more unsettling from the point of view of peace-loving Palestinians is the fact that Israel’s top politicians are aware of the implications of their damaging policies, even as they refuse to change them.
After meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak two months ago at his office in Tel Aviv, I walked away believing he understood that unless Israel changes its policies vis-a-vis my people, sooner or later the world will see those policies for what they are: apartheid. I believe the deadly attack on the flotilla, and the worldwide reactions that followed, are confirming Barak’s fears – and sooner, rather than later. Israel’s policies are no longer acceptable to the world community, and a change in policy is crucial.
The day after the Mavi Marmara incident, the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, bluntly told the Knesset: “Israel is becoming more of a liability and less of an asset for the United States.”
The siege of Gaza has been going on for nearly three years, and strategically speaking, so far, Israel and its allies have been the biggest losers. The reaction from both the world’s governments and its peoples to last week’s attack shows not only the growing intolerance of Israel’s policies, but an urgent need for Israel to rethink its long-term goals. Is it to exist as a democracy, and in peace with its neighbors, or will it continue to be the Palestinians’ landlords?
If Israel’s goal is to be a permanent landlord, then its future in the region is clear: More and more disgruntled Arab and Muslim youth will continue to join the lines of resistance against the apartheid in the territories and will continue to threaten the stability of the already weak neighboring Arab regimes. It is important to note that a large number of the people on the ships bound for Gaza were young Arabs from almost every country in the region. Today they may come on ships with peace activists, tomorrow they will storm the borders with jihadist movements. Then, it will not only be Israel facing them. Their own regimes and the United States will also have to face the consequences.
The fact that Turkey and Iran are sending aid to the Palestinians and criticizing Israel’s policies will not only undermine the legitimacy of the nearby Arab regimes, which are already seen as helpless and ineffective, but will also lead their populations to draw inspiration from those two countries.
Egypt, realizing that its regime is weak and unstable, has already felt the heat and immediately opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza, which it intends to leave open.
So, is Israel ready to think seriously about long-term solutions, or does it intend to simply continue to impose a siege on itself?
Israel’s leaders – with the help of the United States and the international community – must redefine their country’s long-term vision and goals, and allow a Palestinian state to exist by its side. If Israel’s goal is to live in a democracy and in peace with the Palestinians, then its path should be clear: Lift the siege on Gaza, encourage a unity government, and let the Palestinians build their own democracy.