Repeating Old Mistakes Won’t Help the People of Gaza

January 2, 2019 | Peter Berkowitz
About the author: Peter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His writings are posted at

Last month, two highly regarded Washington think tanks produced a report urging the U.S. to take a “proactive” approach to save the Gaza Strip from economic and humanitarian crisis through “vigorous diplomacy” involving the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas’s sponsors Qatar and Turkey, the UN, the EU, and other Middle Eastern states. The report’s suggestions, notes Peter Berkowitz, are not so different from those in a similar policy paper released a decade ago, or from the actual policies of the Obama administration. And they are just as unlikely to succeed:

First, by offering anodyne formulations about the “cycle of violence” that blur the difference between Hamas’s desire to destroy Israel and Israel’s desire to be left alone, the report obscures the abiding sources of Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

Second, . . . [i]t is doubtful that the Palestinian Authority leadership . . . will cooperate with the elaborate scheme devised [by the think-tank experts] to end the Gaza crisis. The report also glosses over the political hurdles faced by the many other countries with conflicting concerns, including Israel, to which the report assigns crucial roles. And the report fails to identify any element in Hamas’s mindset or strategic outlook to which diplomats might appeal to induce it to relinquish administrative power, allow the PA back into Gaza, and combine security forces—all of which [these] experts deem essential.

Third, the report blames the Trump administration for damaging relations with the PA by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the American embassy there, and cutting aid to the PA and to UNRWA (a UN organization that provides Palestinians with social, economic, and educational services). But Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Pretending otherwise encourages Palestinians to indulge unrealistic expectations and advance extravagant demands. And coddling the PA and overlooking UNRWA’s corruption and anti-Israel propagandizing are bound up with the decades-long blighting of Gaza. Disincentivizing bad conduct offers the prospect of reducing it. . . .

To craft a constructive policy for Gaza—as elsewhere—the United States must resist fantasizing about the interests that ought to motivate regional actors and instead grasp those that do.

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