Dan Steinbock lays out the background of the Netanyahu government’s apparent final solution, now underway, for the Palestinian territory. Part 4 in a 5-part series.
By Dan Steinbock
The World Financial Review
With a population of over 2 million people on some 365 square kilometres, the Gaza Strip is one of the world’s most densely populated areas and “largest open-air prison.”
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, it became an Egyptian-administered territory. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, it came under Israeli occupation. The precursor of Hamas, Al Mujamma al Islami (“The Islamic Centre”), was established in the Israeli-occupied Gaza in the 1970s under the auspices of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. (For more, see the 2007 book Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militants, Martyrs and Spies by Zaki Chehab and Ilan Pappe’s 2017 book The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories.)
One of their adherents was the wheelchair-bound Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the future leader of Hamas. Yassin concentrated the Mujamma’s activities on religious and social services. Ironically, Israeli authorities actively supported its rise, when their main antagonist was the late Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation, or PLO.
While PLO operatives in the occupied territories faced brutal repression, the Islamists affiliated with Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood were allowed to operate in Gaza. Israelis hoped to use the Islamists against PLO. (See Andrew Higgins’ 2009 article “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas” in The Wall Street Journal.) Yassin was jailed in 1984 on a 12-year sentence, but released only a year later.
At the time, when Netanyahu still served as the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., I interviewed him about his book Fighting Terrorism (1986), which offered lessons on “how democracies can defeat domestic and international terrorists.”
Fast, smart and slick, he represented a new generation of Israeli politicians trained by U.S. PR experts and his former employer, global consultancy BCG.
Launched in 1988 amid the first intifada (uprising), Hamas has always refused to accept the existence of the Israeli state. When the peace process began between Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s Arafat, Yassin was again in prison. Hamas launched a campaign of attacks against civilians, which contributed to the rise of Netanyahu and the Israeli far right in 1996.
Intriguingly, Netanyahu, as prime minister, ordered Yassin to be released from prison (“on humanitarian grounds”), despite his life sentence. Netanyahu seems to have relied on the Islamists to sabotage the Oslo Peace Accords. After having expelled Yassin to Jordan, Netanyahu allowed him to return to Gaza as a hero in late 1997.
[Related: Gaza, Hamas & Netanyahu’s Likud]
Until his killing in 2004, Yassin initiated a wave of suicide attacks against Israelis. As Netanyahu later told his Likud Party’s Knesset members in March 2019,
“anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy – to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
(For more, see the article “Another Concept Implodes: Israel Can’t Be Managed by a Criminal Defendant,” by Gidi Weitz in Haaretz, on Oct. 9.)
In the 1990s, as part of the Oslo Accords, most of Gaza had been handed over to the Palestinian National Authority, alongside the Israeli settlements, which were evacuated in 2005, despite intense opposition by the Israeli far right.
In 2007, after a legitimate Hamas election victory that rankled both the West and Fatah, the Islamist group took over and began administering Gaza. That led both Israel and Egypt to impose a land, sea and air blockade, which devastated the poor, ailing economy.
Before the global pandemic, Gazan Palestinians organised widespread protests demanding that Israel end the blockade and address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Already two years ago, Gaza’s economy was on the verge of collapse. Yet, those interests that had most to gain from such a humanitarian crisis allowed it to proceed to its inflection point.
The final solution of the Netanyahu government’s far right seems to be the devastation of Gaza and the twisted hope that this would cause a mass emigration of Gazans away from the Israeli border.
Dr. Dan Steinbock is the founder of Difference Group and has served at the India, China and America Institute (U.S.), Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see here.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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