Neighbors fear Gaza Strip after Hamas takeover

Freedom Newspapers

There are losers all around the Middle East, and most decidedly in Washington, in the virtually complete takeover of the Gaza Strip by the militant Islamist faction Hamas. But the residents of that unhappy territory will suffer the most.

A little more than a month ago, before the fierce fighting of the past few weeks broke out, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told Congress that the gross domestic product in the West Bank and Gaza has dropped 40 percent in the past seven years, over
60 percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line, meaning they survive on less than $2.40 per day, and 50 percent of Palestinians rely on food assistance to feed their families.

All those figures were worse for the Gaza Strip than for the West Bank, and the Gaza is now run by people whose interest in economic development is less than negligible, focused as they are on war and the ephemeral rewards of power, and financed as they are by Syria and Iran.

The virtual civil war between Fatah, the Palestinian faction headed by the president of the largely mythical Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamist-jihadist group Hamas, which won the Palestinian parliamentary elections 16 months ago, makes whatever fragile hope remained for a viable Palestinian entity — let alone a state — pretty much a dead letter. As chaos reigns, all Palestinians will suffer.

Israel has to be worried at the prospect of a jihadist state, however small, on its border — the outcome many claim to fear in Iraq. It is faced with two options, neither pleasant: living with a Hamas-run Gaza and hoping the inevitable terrorist strikes toward Israel are infrequent enough to tolerate, or reinvading Gaza and trying to control 1.5 million angry Palestinians with the Israeli military.
With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert increasingly unpopular and the prospect of conflict with Lebanon renewing itself this summer, Israel is hardly in a strong position to decide about anything.

Saudi Arabia, which tried to broker a coalition between Fatah and Hamas in March, may be the next biggest loser. Its efforts to leverage its oil wealth into a position as stabilizer of the volatile Middle East seems to have failed, at least in the short run.

Egypt and Jordan are more worried than ever to have such open conflict on their borders.

Finally, the United States has lost whatever slim chance it once had of serving as a stabilizing influence in the Middle East, and the last shred of respect it once commanded in the region. Its undisguised efforts to shore up Fatah with training and aid backfired, creating a rallying cry for Hamas and driving too many Palestinians toward Hamas.

Perhaps the best hope is that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt can broker a cease-fire if not a peace agreement. Israel might turn over the $562 million in tax money it has withheld from the Palestinian Authority since Hamas won a parliamentary majority in January 2006.

The rest of us have to watch and wait.