After the Pullout
August 15, 2005 marked the day of a new beginning in occupied Palestine. That was the day the Israeli settlers began to be evacuated (forcibly if necessary) from all settlements in the Gaza Strip. It goes without saying that some of those settlers have absolutely no intention of leaving peacefully, as a matter of fact, some will likely use armed resistance though the majority have said they will do a “peaceful” resistance. The images being projected around the world of settlers and soldiers crying are terrible to behold but they are no worse than what happened to the Palestinians that were forcibly evicted from their homes. Many of those Palestinians still have the keys to their original homes. Even as we feel sympathy for those being evicted, we should never forget the Palestinians who have continuously lost their homes and livelihoods since Israel’s creation in 1948.
Ok, enough about the settlers and the past. Time to discuss what happens after the pullout. The real question is not when will they finally leave but what happens when they do leave? Currently, the Palestinian Authority is a mess. They are locked in a power struggle with Hamas who have been providing whatever social network they can in the region for years. We are hearing daily reports out of the area that state that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in a power struggle in the area. The Sunday edition of The New York Times ran an article by James Bennett where Nizar Rayan, a Hamas Leader, states “Hamas emphasizes that we are not an alternative to anyone. But, we reject any decision taken by the authority without consulting all the factions”.
The most important line in that whole statement is the last one. That sentence “… we reject any decision….” speaks exactly to the internal conflict at hand. Mahmoud Abbas cannot in anyway minimize the enormity of the sacrifices Hamas has made in blood nor can he cede total control to them. This is the crux of the tightrope he walks. At this time, most, if not all Palestinians are viewing the pullout with a jaundiced eye and support for Hamas is very high. They are all waiting to see what happens next.
As widely reported, donors from the Gulf States have promised enough money to rebuild the whole of Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas must find a way to share power and bring some semblance of normalcy and peace to a people that have not known a moment’s rest since 1948. Just as Abbas needs to acknowledge the enormity of Hamas’s sacrifices in blood, they must acknowledge that he is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinians. Abbas must keep in mind that Hamas has been the major provider of social support in the region and that their knowledge will be invaluable in the days to come.
The time has come for Hamas to do what Hizbullah has successfully done in Lebanon and that is to become a viable political party while maintaining their stance as a resistance movement. True, Hizbullah has perhaps more experience in the political arena but that does not mean that Hamas can’t do this. Some of their members are very highly educated and would be perfect spokespeople. In doing this, Hamas will finally gain the legitimacy it needs to be seen as a viable party and not just a militia group.
The people of Gaza need help. They need jobs (as most are reportedly subsisting on $2/day and unemployment is rampant), they need schools, they need working hospitals, but most of all, and they need decent homes. As it stands, Gaza is one big refugee camp no matter how you choose to look at it. With all of the donor money set to pour into Gaza, Abbas must take special care to insure the money is going where it is supposed too. It has long been known in the Arab street that the PA is rife with corrupt officials more interested in lining their own pockets than they are in improving the lot of the average Palestinian. These people need to be rooted out immediately. It is absolutely imperative that they have no access to any of the donor money coming in and it is even more important to have a system of checks and balances in place to insure that Gazans are getting what they need.
To begin with, the leaders of Hamas in Gaza and Prime Minister Abbas need to sit down and list the greatest priorities in Gaza. In focusing on the big picture of what is needed, they must not lose sight of the minute details. Top of the list should be housing with schools and hospitals following a close second. Third–a grassroots agricultural/economic movement utilizing all of the arable land available in Gaza needs to be established. Once those things are done, they can then move on to bigger economic/employment development opportunities such as the shipping opportunities to be had from the ports and the manufacturing plants that can be built on the non-arable lands. When they do build plants and the like on the non-arable lands, the greatest care must be taken to insure that environmental controls are in place so as not to pollute the arable land and any available water supply.
Law and order must also be established in Gaza. Once Israel leaves, it should not be left up to Hamas alone to establish order out of the current chaos. This must be a joint venture with the PA. Members of Hamas should be fully trained and integrated into a formalized Police unit as they tend to have an idea of what the concerns are in the area. With the establishment of law and order, the current vigilante attitude that pervades Hamas and the area itself will fade away. As changes occur in the Palestinian territories, we will see less fighting and more co-operating. People will have livelihoods and homes that they will want to hold on too. Their children will grow in an environment that is healthy and beneficial and finally, peace will have a chance.
With all of these things done, Gaza will rise as a jewel in the Palestinian movement and should be a model for the rest of the areas that have yet to be ceded to Palestinian control. Gaza can rise; it only needs help to do it.