The Hamas groupies may be demonstrating in force on the streets of Europe and North America, but in the Middle East it’s all a bit more muted. Everyone seems to agree that the conspicuous silence of the Sunni Arab dictatorships is because they’re discreetly on board with Israel’s aim of weakening Hamas sufficiently to enable Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah to reclaim control of Gaza. I can understand why that would be an attractive goal, but I’m less certain it’s achievable
Like East and West Pakistan, the “Palestinian Authority” has split into two states — and, just as India does with Bangladesh and Pakistan, Israel treats its eastern and western Muslim neighbors quite differently. On its borders with Gaza, it maintains an economic blockade. On its borders with the West Bank, it’s removed checkpoints, created a free-trade regime and helped facilitate a remarkable economic boom in a rump statelet that’s done little to deserve it. Israel did this with the intention of demonstrating to Gazans that there’s a heavy price to be paid for supporting Hamas. It’s not obvious, however, that Gazans care. There was a lot of commentary when Hamas was elected on an Obama-esque “Change & Reform” platform that it was a rejection of Fatah corruption — which is true up to a point. But it was also a conscious vote for a more implacable approach to Israel. At the Hamas 21st birthday celebrations just last month, one fifth of Gaza’s entire population showed up for the big rallies — which is pretty amazing.
Although one can see why Mubarak doesn’t want an Iran-backed Islamist squat on his doorstep, it’s not clear that Abbas and Fatah are restorable in Gaza. And, in the end, neither faction is capable of running a sovereign state – if only because in both cases politics is a cover for their real interests: Fatah prioritizes kleptocracy, Hamas prioritizes Jew-killing. If you want to loot the public treasury, you sign up with the former; if you want to launch rockets at the Zionist Entity, you sign up with the latter. But, if you’re interested in economic policy or governing ideology, there’s nowhere to go. And in Gaza Hamas remains far more popular than Fatah. Israel can certainly precipitate the fall of Hamas, but it’s less obvious that it can put the “Palestinian Authority” back together again, or whether that is necessarily in its own interests.