Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

16 Years Later, Israel is Paying the Price of the 2007 Gaza Conflict

In 2007, Israelis were scornfully gloating about the infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds were killed during those three months of fratricidal conflict. Hamas took control of the entire strip and expelled Fatah leaders to Ramallah. Israeli media had a field day with pictures of Fatah members fleeing to the West Bank, donning nothing but their underwear.

Israel was on cloud nine. The Palestinians were busy killing each other, and instead of “Palestine versus Israel,” the equation was “Palestine versus Palestine.”

The Palestinian national unity government collapsed. Hamas appointed its own judges and police force and named Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister, while the Palestinian Authority named Salam Fayyad as PM in Ramallah. The Arab League and European Union backed Ramallah, while Iran funded Hamas in Gaza, enshrining the divide and dissipating the dream of a Palestinian state.

Palestinians were condemned to a life of misery. Borders were closed and livelihoods were disrupted. Tunnels were dug, and Iran cemented its presence in the strip, fostering and equipping proxy groups to serve its interests.

The Hamas authority was there, but the vacuum remained, indirectly fostered by Israel, which did not enable the legitimate authority to return to Gaza and establish its power. Yet this should come as no surprise. Five years before Hamas’ takeover of the strip, Israel had destroyed the capacities of the nascent authority in Bethlehem and Ramallah instead of enabling it.

Since 2007, Gaza has been living in a vacuum, except for a military organization that competes with and does not recognize the Islamic Jihad. As in Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, or even Afghanistan, this vacuum is the archenemy of stability, for it threatens the whole region, not only Gaza or Israel.

Some of those who carried out armed attacks against Egypt in recent years infiltrated Sinai from Gaza. Hamas no longer held the reins after the rise of the Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda groups.

If Israel wants stability, it will need to take a long, hard look at its policies, which have failed to uphold the Oslo Accords. It must also reconsider how it deals with the Palestinian Authority. Without a legitimate Palestinian government armed with real authority and international support, peace and stability will remain a far-fetched dream.

Currently, all eyes are turned to Hamas and Israel, while the Palestinian Authority stands by idly. But in fact, the disruption and weakening of the Ramallah government contributed to the growing influence of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and even in the West Bank.

Since the divide, the capabilities and power of the Ramallah authority have only waned. The noose around the Palestinian Authority’s neck kept tightening to prevent it from establishing a state and limit its authority to a mere 1,000 square kilometers, a significant cutback from the 5,000 square kilometers agreed in the Oslo Accords – not to mention the Gaza Strip, which is also not under its control.

A weak Palestinian Authority cannot be expected to enforce its power and shoulder its responsibilities as it should. Israel’s safety is contingent on the security of Palestinian regions, as in all states around the world. As such, Israel must allow Palestinians to run their own regions, and this requires supporting the Palestinian Authority and building its capacities over many years.

Israel cannot take a page out of Bashar al-Assad’s book and send two and a half million Palestinians to its only neighbor, Egypt.

Nor can it bear to block off the Gaza Strip any longer and leave it under the authority of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.