Why resolving the question of Palestine is still important
The Gaza Strip, historically a thorn in the side of whoever occupied the turbulent territory, represents a major security risk for Israel and can spell real trouble for the Palestinians.
Gaza carries all the characteristics of a failed state -- and then some -- due to the complex relationship it has with the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank.
Managed by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement (if one can use the word “managed” loosely), Gaza is a major problem for the Palestinian Authority that rules in the West Bank but is also a major security headache for Israel.
Perhaps the most potent -- and eventually dangerous -- weapon the Palestinians have in their arsenal is their demographics.
Most of the population is under 25 years old and unemployment is around 40%. Gazans are 98% Muslim. With the political parties having failed to pull Gaza out of its economic decline or to solve the territory’s problems, the migration of voters from traditional political parties to the more militant groups, such as Hamas, has given the Islamists a strong foothold in Gaza.
Gaza is a recipe for socio-economic disaster. The population is just shy of 2 million in an area approximately the size of the District of Columbia, which has fewer than 700,000 people. The territory comes in at the bottom of nearly every social and economic topic in categories such as education and health services.
The one place where day labourers can find employment across the heavily fortified fence that separates Gaza from Israel is in Israel. However, lack of cordiality towards each other -- to put it mildly -- forces the Israelis to close border crossing. This infuriates Gazans who feel they have few options other than to turn their anger and frustration at Israel.
Gaza has long been a problem area. There is even mention in the Bible’s Old Testament that, when Moses took the Jewish people out of Egypt and went to the location where present-day Gaza is situated, “he took the long way home.’’ Meaning that he avoided the shortest route -- through Gaza -- going around the Strip and the longer way to the promised land.
Then there is the story of Samson bringing down the temple on his captors. Scholars say this took place in Gaza.
In more contemporary times, the British were not in the least upset in allowing the Egyptians to administer the territory, which they received from the Ottoman Turks and the Egyptians shed no tears when they lost the Strip to Israel in the June 1967 war.
Israel’s occupation of Gaza came about against the advice of Israel’s top general at the time. Moshe Dayan was against moving Israeli troops into the labyrinth of small streets and alleyways. Other generals feared that leaving the Gazans at their rear posed a greater security risk for Israel and directed the army to occupy the Strip.
History aside, the future for Gaza does not look too promising either.
“The transformation of the Gaza Strip into an ineradicable terror entity poses a formidable security threat to Israel by placing its population centres and strategic infrastructure within the range of Hamas’s rockets and missiles all the way to Tel Aviv and by allowing the group to breach the border fence and infiltrate Israel via its extensive network of underground tunnels,” said a former senior Israeli military officer.
Speaking on a conference call arranged by the Middle East Forum in Washington, Gershon Hacohen, a retired major-general in the Israeli military and now a senior associate at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, said that should the Israeli military ever need to re-enter the Gaza Strip, “Hamas has the ability to exact a heavy toll through its well-organised defensive positions in the cities and refugee camps.”
Recent wars and revolutions in the Middle East along with the emergence of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have distracted the United States and Western Europe from pursuing initiatives aimed at reaching a peaceful and lasting settlement in the Palestinian territories. The problem has not gone away, however, and will escalate unless the plight of the Palestinians is resolved. With the current resident of the White House, it is highly unlikely that any headway will be reached anytime soon.