Never before have Palestinians been forced to make a stark choice between supporting terrorism and pursuing prosperity; they’d more or less been able to enjoy both simultaneously. While growth was stagnant or negative during most of the so-called “intifada,” Palestinians started their terror campaign in the fall of 2000 with the wealthiest non-oil Arab economy.
Faced with the reality that continued Hamas leadership likely would result in even greater misery, most Gazans had soured on the terrorist group. According to figures released this January by respected pollster Nabil Kukali of the Palestinian Center For Public Opinion, Gazans’ support for Hamas had plummeted to 22%—making the Islamists much less popular in Gaza than Fatah.
In a surprisingly candid interview with Public Radio International this January, Hamas Senior Advisor Ahmed Yousef admitted that Hamas’ popularity was suffering “because of the sanction[s], the pressure.”
Should the economic siege of Gaza be broken, most Gazans will likely credit the “martyrdom” of the nine dead flotilla passengers—which only happened because of the violent ambush of descending Israeli soldiers. Though not the doing of Hamas, it certainly followed the spirit of Hamas—a point that probably won’t be lost on most Palestinians.
While clever Western diplomats might believe that they can chart a path that will enable Fatah to receive the credit for ending the economic siege of Gaza, they would be wise to study carefully the aftermaths of Israel’s unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005.
In both instances, domestic political concerns were clearly the primary motivation for Israel pulling back military forces, yet each time, Hezbollah and Hamas dubiously claimed credit for driving out the “Zionist enemy.”
The gambit worked both times.
With Egypt temporarily opening its border with Gaza in a show of “solidarity”—an obvious pandering to its largely anti-Israel population—Hamas appears to have rebounded considerably. That’s even before Gaza receives its portion of the proposed U.S. aid package of $400 million for the Palestinians.
When Israel announced Thursday that it would allow the transfer of even more food into Gaza and ease restrictions on materials for civilian projects under international supervision, Hamas quickly refused the offer. Why? Because, as explained by senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan, Hamas is holding out until Israel decides to “completely lift the siege on the Gaza Strip.”
If President Obama is successful in breaking the economic siege of Gaza, his victory will be a Pyrrhic one. Economic revival in Gaza cannot help but reinvigorate Hamas, thus increasing terrorist attacks against Israel and dashing whatever hopes Mr. Obama himself harbored for achieving peace.
In other words, ending the economic siege of Gaza will lead to the same ending as so many other paths paved with good intentions.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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