As Israelis in the southern part of the country have taken to shelters and safe rooms under a barrage of more than 60 (and counting) rockets from the Gaza Strip, and as the Israeli General Staff considers a response, it is worth a look at the just-released EU Heads of Mission report on Gaza. It got a few things right, including:
- Criticism of Hamas rocket fire at Israel. “Whilst the number of rockets has been lower in 2013 than in previous years, indiscriminate firing of rockets towards Israel by extremist groups in Gaza has continued, in violation of international law.” The report noted that 2013 was a quiet year, but Hamas is “nonetheless continuing to create fear for the population in southern Israel.”
The EU couldn’t have known about Wednesday’s attacks, but it was also the committee’s view that: “Despite Hamas’ calls for a return to armed resistance, there is little evidence that Hamas has changed its policy on the ground. The ceasefire … has largely held.” Though not for lack of trying. Hamas’ “policy” was and remains to acquire ever more sophisticated rockets and missiles with which to threaten Israel. Consider what this week’s attack might have looked like if Israel had not successfully intercepted the Iranian-sponsored shipment of Syrian missiles.
- Harsh criticism of Hamas for blocking freedom of assembly, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of speech. They condemn restrictions on NGOs, an increasing number of arrests, interrogation of social protesters, warnings to people against attending anti-Hamas demonstrations, closing media outlets, arresting journalists who criticize the authorities and prohibiting the distribution of West Bank newspapers. Executions without judicial processes, discrimination against women, and laws that violate women’s rights are also condemned.
- The diplomats note: “The [economic] situation [in Gaza] has deteriorated further in recent months as a result of the geo-political changes which took place in the region in the course of 2013, particularly in Egypt and its closure of the majority of smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza as well as increased restrictions at Rafah.” They add: “For several years, these tunnels kept the Gaza economy afloat … accounting for more than 80 percent of Gaza’s supply of construction materials, medical supplies, food, and other goods.”
Egypt didn’t destroy the tunnels over the importation of corn flakes and Advil. The tunnels were the primary supply line for weapons from Sinai. The EU agrees:
“Although the smuggling of weapons has dropped drastically since the Egyptian measures to destroy the illicit tunnel network, Hamas is believed to retain a significant stockpile of weapons.”
That’s it for good news. The EU solutions, on the other hand, range from wishful thinking to that old standby — blaming Israel.
- First, the EU posits: “The root of the current economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza is first and foremost of a political nature and is based on an unsustainable policy of severe movement and access restrictions.” Not Hamas’ ongoing war against Israel or Fatah, or any of the increasingly nasty human rights violations the report itself mentions. “The primary duty bearer in this regard is Israel.”
- Second: “A categorical renunciation of violence by Hamas … would have a transformative effect on the situation in Gaza and would enable the badly needed process in Palestinian reconciliation.” “Gaza forms an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory … the current peace negotiations must take this territorial unity into account.” And: “In the absence of political unity between the West Bank and Gaza … any comprehensive agreement will be difficult to negotiate, legitimize and implement.”
- Third: the report suggests Hamas operate “in accordance with the principles set out by President [Mahmoud] Abbas.”
- Fourth: “In terms of its future directions, Hamas is currently at cross-roads. At one end of the scale it could become more moderate, reconcile with Fatah, join the PLO and reach a modus vivendi with Egypt and in particular with regard to the situation in Sinai. At the other end of the scale it could intensify armed attacks on Israel including from the West Bank. Various options exist in between.”
A “categorical renunciation of violence” against Israel would also have a salutary effect on the peace process. But no renunciation by Hamas is likely. Violence is its mission and Abbas is its enemy as much as Israel and the notion of the “two state solution” is its enemy. Furthermore, Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It cannot accept the secular, nationalist Fatah as its leader, because Hamas is neither. It cannot “reach a modus vivendi with Egypt” for the same reason. No, Hamas couldn’t “become more moderate.” And no, there are no “various options” between Hamas’ commitment to the violent overthrow of Israel and acceptance of the hated Abbas and Fatah as the leaders of the Palestinian movement for an unacceptable division of Palestine into a rump split state straddling Israel.
As Hamas is determined to remain violently oppositional to Fatah, Egypt, and Israel, what is to be done? First, point fingers: “Israel,” says the EU, “bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza,” not Hamas’ behavior, or the Egyptian crackdown on Hamas terror, “[a]nd for further deterioration of the humanitarian situation and of the economic and social conditions … Gaza is facing a dangerous and pressing humanitarian and economic situation with power outages across Gaza for up to 16 hours a day.”
The old “categorical renunciation of violence” might work here, but the diplomats simply urge Israel to ignore the violence against it and “ease access restrictions to Gaza, especially in light of Egypt’s ongoing blockade.”
Nothing new, except this.
The EU report may be harsh because the Europeans are embarrassed. If they’re not, they should be. Their own EU auditors recently released a report on the management of European tax dollars spent in the Gaza Strip, and European governments don’t look like good stewards of their people’s money. The auditors examined about 1bn euros (£840m; $1.3bn) of EU spending in Gaza between 2008 and 2012, and discovered that the EU is paying salaries for approximately 61,000 civil servants and members of the security forces who stopped reporting for work after the 2007 Hamas-Fatah civil war.
The auditors did not have overall figures for the number of civil servants in Gaza who were currently not working, but they found that in one office 90 out of the 125 staff were absent. The auditors called for a major review, and said the money should be reprogrammed.
It is one thing for the Europeans to throw good money after bad, and the case could be made that direct payments — even to people who aren’t working — are a “humanitarian gesture” to the poor folks of Gaza. But it is something entirely else to demand that Israel ignore the Hamas war against it and to provide humanitarian gestures to those who would be their executioners if given the chance.