Elias Harfoush
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
December 22, 2008 - 1:00am

Marwa Abu Shawab, a mother of five in the Jabalia camp, summarizes in her words the tragedy of Gaza's inhabitants, between Israel's aggressions and Hamas's policies. This lady, who lost two of her children in the clashes between the two sides, today says: "We want to live. If Hamas wishes to end the ceasefire and return to fighting, it at least has the obligation to protect us from Israel's counterattacks, which do not distinguish between fighters and civilians".

Who should bear more responsibility for the fate of Gaza's inhabitants, their living conditions, and the lives of their children? Is it Israel, which requires no further proof of its hostile behavior, especially against the Palestinian people? Or is it Ismail Haniyeh, Khaled Mashal, and the other Hamas leaders, who today bear responsibility for the Gaza Strip, and who place the fate of the Palestinian people at their mercy with every decision they take?

Since the beginning, i.e. since a ceasefire agreement was reached between Olmert and Barak's government and the leaders of Hamas six months ago, it was evident that Hamas did not have the interest of the inhabitants of Gaza on top of its list of priorities when taking decisions.

Hamas considered that such an agreement represented Israel's recognition of its "defeat" in the face of Hamas's random rocket attacks against Sderot, although the difference in the nature and extent of the damage produced between such rocket attacks and Israel's air raids required no proof. Hamas also considered that this agreement, which had been sponsored and mediated by Egypt, only means acknowledging its size on the Palestinian scene, within the framework of its conflict with President Mahmoud Abbas's Authority.

Nevertheless, Hamas has ignored an important aspect in its analysis, which is that there are Arab and non-Arab parties who seek to put an end to the Palestinians' irregular situation, and who look at the living conditions of Gaza's inhabitants from a viewpoint that has nothing to do with politics. On the contrary, these parties view exploiting the suffering of the inhabitants of Gaza for political purposes as unacceptable. That is in fact what has driven them to exert pressures in order to alleviate the suffering of the Strip's inhabitants by any means; one such means being to deny Israel any pretext to intensify its attacks.

Hamas has now decided to unilaterally put an end to the ceasefire, pretexting that the Israelis have not abided by their commitments to open border crossings, end the siege and stop their aggressions. However, here it is yet again ignoring another aspect, which is that this ceasefire agreement has remained without a political basis of any kind. Hence, it was only natural for it to break down at the first political hangup. This is what happened after Egypt withdrew its mediation and lost all hope of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas under current circumstances. Although the situation at the border crossings has reasonably improved, considering what it had been before the ceasefire, it was only natural for such a situation to remain contingent on Israel's stance on Hamas's control of the Strip, and for Israel not to allow it to improve in a way that would reinforce the Islamist movement's influence and popularity.

The "humanitarian" ceasefire was crowned by neither agreements over the fate of the Palestinian situation, which remains contingent on the internal conflict with Fatah, nor over Hamas's true stance regarding the future of the settlement and of the two-state solution, which the entire world has now adopted and is striving to implement. Furthermore, Hamas sought to lay part of the blame for closing down the Rafah border crossing on Egypt, disregarding the fact that the withdrawal of the party representing the Palestinian Authority which was in charge of supervising this crossing is what complicated the situation there. Indeed, this situation remains contingent on an international agreement that would organize the functioning of this crossing, and Egypt cannot breach it by itself.

With or without a ceasefire, the humanitarian and political situation in Gaza is not expected to change overnight. What is worse is that the fate of the Gaza Strip is contingent not only on Israel's "mercy" and on the conduct of Hamas fighters in the coming days, but especially on the internal division among the Palestinians, which has turned the Strip into an isolated island, viewed only from the perspective of humanitarian sympathy, although the political situation it has been suffering from for a year and a half is much more difficult and tragic.


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