Longing for the Gaza of November 2005?

I’m tempted to regard it as a bit of a silver lining that Yaacov Lozowick has recently broken his blogging abstinence to comment on what Israelis often simply call “hamatzav” – the situation, which currently is of course once again a rather troubled one.

In his most recent post, Lozowick argues that, according to reports about the current efforts to negotiate a cease-fire, Hamas seems to be demanding “what Israel already gave in 2005.” As Lozowick explains:

“2005 was a very very long time ago. So long ago that almost nobody old enough to use twitter or otherwise be able to express an opinion on Israel and Palestine can be expected to remember it. Still, the fact is that in September 2005 Israel pulled its very last soldier out of Gaza, after having pulled its last settlers out in August.  […]

The significance of this is that between September 2005 and early 2006, there was no Israeli blockade of Gaza. […] There can be little doubt that had the Gazans done in 2005 what the Jewish Agency did in 1947, namely purposefully go about the mundane but crucial task of nation building, Israel wouldn’t have interfered. On the contrary: a majority of Israelis were hoping – fervently or dubiously – they’d do exactly that, which is why Sharon, then followed after his illness by Ehud Olmert, built the election strategy of their brand new party Kadima on the idea of continuing the disengagement process on the West Bank. […]

The reason none of this ever happened is that the Palestinians made their choices, and their choices were not what Israel had hoped. And thus began the downward spiral to where we’re at now.”

Concluding his post, Lozowick asks:

“Is Hamas…now negotiating for what already existed in 2005, after having spent the intervening years pounding into the collective Israeli psyche that the gamble of 2005 was idiotic?”

I think it’s fascinating to recall in this context a PBS interview with veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that was aired on November 28, 2005. The transcript of the interview is entitled “Border Openings Historic Step for Gaza Strip.”

At the outset, PBS interviewer Ray Suarez outlines the context:

“For the first time in nearly four decades, Palestinians took control of the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, this one at the Rafah checkpoint. The deal to give the Palestinians control of Rafah and other crossings was part of an agreement brokered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice two weeks ago. It ended Israeli control of the crossing three months after Israel withdrew settlers and troops from Gaza, and is meant to foster greater movement for Gazans and their goods.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are preparing for parliamentary elections in January. But today’s primaries in Gaza for those elections and held by the ruling political party Fatah were canceled by the Palestinian Authority. The Authority blamed political opponents of Fatah for gunfire at many polling stations.”

Suarez begins the interview by asking Erekat about the postponement of the Gaza primaries, but Erekat responds by dismissing the violence in Gaza, claiming confidently that “Palestinians are realizing that it’s the ballots and not the bullets that will shape the future of Palestinians.”

Responding to questions about the opening of the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, Erekat says [my emphasis]:

“I have to state on the record there are three significant things that happened with this border opening. Number one is that for the first time in our history we have a control over who comes and who goes through an international border. And this is very significant thing. This is the difference between Gaza being a big prison, 1.3 million suffocating or Gaza open and people are free to come and go.

Secondly, we have the element of the European Union who courageously accepted our invitation to come and help us in upgrading our human and technical know-how in running international borders in accordance with international standards. […]

I think Dr. Rice [Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] has pulled a miracle with these agreements. They have negotiated this for two-and-a-half months. All the deals were made there.

Maybe it was the psychology of the Israelis giving up their control and occupation 38 years later that was difficult for them maybe without it every step of the way. But the fact that Dr. Rice came and exercised her negotiating skills with us and the Israelis, we had no alternative, both of us, but to go along the way. And then today we have a border crossing that’s opening.”

Turning again to the upcoming Palestinian elections, Erekat states:

“I think will be the most significant thing to happen in Palestinian political life.

This will be a turning point in our political life. Look at the results of the primaries already taken. Look at the fact that we will go into these elections and I don’t think our life will be the same. If we add to that the dimension of the Israeli elections that are coming on March 28. […] I think ever since the Israeli occupation came to my hometown Jericho in 1967, I have never seen something more significant in Israel than what I see now. [A reference to the formation of the centrist Kadima party.]

And I hope that once the dust settles down that the Israelis would have elected a government that is willing to go with us towards the end game, the end of conflict, the treaty of peace which I believe is doable. […]

The interviewer then asks:

“There’s a pattern in these conversations both on the Israeli side and on yours as they point to the other side and say this has to happen, this has to happen, this has to happen, or else the deal is off. What do you have to accomplish on your side as a confidence-building measure in order for the Israelis to believe that the PA can really be in control of the territories that they quit?”

Erekat responds:

“One authority, one gun, and the rule of law. I believe this is a major challenge that is facing us. This is President Abbas’ main program now. I believe you have to see these elections as part of this program because once these elections are over I don’t think the political life of any part, Palestinian Party, that is, will be the same.

The challenge for us is to restore the rule of law, public order, one authority, one legal gun. And we’re not doing this for the Israeli or the Americans. We’re doing it for the sake of maintaining Palestinian social fabric. […]

No militias, no private armies. The parties shall not have guns. And I think a policy of zero tolerance to multiple authorities and multiple guns would be pursued after — with the Palestinian Authority. And I think if we can deliver this, I think in the U.S., in Israel, elsewhere, among the Palestinians above anything else, because that’s what we need to provide, the sense of security to Palestinians.”

We all know, don’t we, what happened: Hamas emerged victorious in the Palestinian elections in January 2006, and by June 2007, Hamas violently took over Gaza.

But while Saeb Erekat’s optimism proved completely unwarranted when it came to the Palestinians, the Israelis fulfilled his fondest hopes: in the elections in spring 2006, Kadima emerged as the strongest party, followed by Labor, while Likud sustained heavy losses.

I’ll just close with a picture – or rather a graph – that is arguably worth a thousand words in the context of the current developments, illustrating what Yaacov Lozowick means when he writes that Hamas “spent the intervening years pounding into the collective Israeli psyche that the gamble of 2005 was idiotic.”

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