So the killing in Gaza ends as it began, to a timetable determined less by events in the region than the rhythms of the US electoral cycle.
The latest round of carnage began, of course, back in November when Israel breached the ceasefire with Hamas on the day that Americans went to the polls, judging (correctly, as it happened) that, with the world’s media focused on the US, a few Palestinian deaths would slide neatly down the memory hole.
Operation Cast Lead duly took place during the final weeks of George Bush’s term, a period in which both the outgoing and incoming presidents could deftly avoid any responsibility. No-one was listening to W any more; Obama was yet to take the reigns.
Thus the ceasefire. The SMH explains: “By halting the offensive, Israel has spared Barack Obama the spectre of a Middle East bloodbath to mark his inauguration and avoided friction with the new US administration.”
Warmongers, take note. You can kill 1206 Palestinians, a third of them children. You bomb mosques and shell schools and cover UNRWA refugee shelters with white phosphorus. But what you can’t do is lower the tone of an official function. Why, this inauguration’s about hope, don’t you know!
Well, there’s precious little of that in Gaza now. In a territory already so impoverished that, even before the offensive, Palestinians suffered from malnutrition, eighty per cent of Gaza’s national product has been destroyed. The total damage bill is said to come to $1.5 billion. Some 20,000 buildings have been hit, fifteen per cent of the total structures on the strip. About 26,000 Palestinians have become internal refugees; the unemployment rate now exceeds 60 per cent.
Insofar as the international community pays attention to Gaza over the next few days, it will be to nod wisely over the need to close the border tunnels to Egypt. The smuggling routes might have supplied Hamas with rockets but they also gave Gazans access to food and medicine and the other supplies of which the Israeli blockade deprived them. Israeli intelligence says that the Palestinians will have the tunnels open within a few months. Of course they will. With the blockade continuing, what else can they do?
That’s why the most likely prognosis is for a brief lull — and then more of the same.
Though the Israeli politicians most closely associated with the war have received a boost in the polls, the residents of Sderot feel cheated by the cease fire and the Israeli far-right will agitate to avoid the “mistakes” of Lebanon and to finish the job.
On the Palestinian side, Hamas, simply by surviving, can claim some sort of victory, especially since it retains the ability to fire rockets.
Nonetheless, the Gaza crisis has also widened the schisms within Palestinian politics, and with Fatah now actively collaborating with the IDF, a Palestinian civil war seems more likely than ever.
In that light, it’s worth revisiting David Rose’s remarkable article from Vanity Fair last year, a piece that revealed the US’s covert operation to arm and train Fatah militants to overthrow Hamas after the Palestinian Authority’s first democratic elections.
Rose’s research illustrates, once again, that the USA is not an onlooker in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians so much as a central player. After all, almost all the weapons by which Gaza has been reduced to rubble came, one way or another, from the USA, the source of some $53 billion in military aid to Israel over recent decades.
That’s why, amidst the glitter of Obama’s inauguration, the Palestinians remain, as always, the skeletons at the feast. The crisis in Gaza is not over. In many ways, it’s just beginning.