With the victory of Hamas in the tussle for the Gaza strip — a victory allegedly capped off by summary executions of Fatah officials with whom they were, briefly, in coalition only months ago — several things have come to pass. The first is that the whole region is tipping towards a point in which there are more non-states than states, ie. chaos.
There is no state in Iraq, for example — the US acknowledged that when it gave its soldiers permission to arm Iraqi Sunnis who claimed to want to fight Al-Qaeda insurgents. Obviously you don’t arm one gang against another, if there was anyone — anyone at all — who could claim the monopoly on force the state requires. Arming the Sunnis was the day the ‘surge’ died, the day the Iraq project was abandoned.
There is no state in Somalia, thanks to the Ethiopian invasion — US supported — crushing such order as allowed people to go about their daily lives without getting killed.
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And now Gaza has become Hamastan. If the conflict is a tragedy for the Palestinians, it’s a nightmare for the Israelis. What are they going to do?
Re-occupy, and provide the one focus that could reunite the Palestinians?
Leave them to it, thus exposing southern Israel to rocket attacks, making a mockery of Israeli power? Negotiate with the de facto leadership, which means recognising Hamas. Last week they were giving fatah militants safe passage across Israel to crush Hamas — will they now ferry them in in IDF helicopters, thus permanently torching Fatah’s reputation?
Or will they indiscriminately carpet bomb the place, thus raising the Arab world to such a pitch of fury that US and allied forces in Iraq will come under massively increased attack? Israel, having played a part in founding Hamas — as a divide-and-rule ploy — is now reaping the whirlwind, an outcome you would think might have occurred to them.
Israel’s main problem here is that it’s a weak state, continually projecting power. It can’t turn Gaza into a new Chechnya because that would split Israeli society apart. Having denied the legitimacy of an elected Hamas government who had guaranteed a ceasefire, they now face a situation in which its most radical wing — who believe that it is better to die fighting than have the life leached out of you — has acquired territory. Anyone with something to lose who gets into a fight with someone with zip, has already lost.
In his later years Yassir Arafat was portrayed as a bit of a dill, Ringo Starr in a tea-cosy. But he kept the movement together for decades.
Doubtless many Palestinians are fervently missing him. Quite possibly many Israelis are too.