by Gerry Foley
The Israeli government finally put so much pressure on the population of Gaza that it triggered an explosion. The Gazan people staged a massive breakout from their outdoor prison. But there were signs before Palestinian militants blew up the barriers on the Egyptian border that the Israeli blockade was becoming untenable. International organizations were raising increasing alarms about an impending “humanitarian disaster” because of the Israeli power cuts and blocking of supplies.
It was likely the evident growth of international outage at the collective punishments inflicted on the people of Gaza, especially in the Arab world, that convinced Palestinian militants that the time had come to challenge the complicity of the Egyptian government with Israel in maintaining the blockade. As it happened, they judged correctly.
The Egyptian authorities were unable to block the massive rush across the border without a major military mobilization and slaughter, and so they caved in, allowing the Palestinian crowds to pass without hindrance. Moreover, although the Israeli and U.S. governments demanded that Egypt restore the border controls, they were obviously unable to put sufficient pressure on the Mubarak government to get it to do that, at least under the present conditions.
The collapse of the Egyptian border has brought an immediate respite for the people of Gaza and an important victory for Hamas over the imperialist powers that have been trying to break it by blockading Gaza. But it is hardly a solution to the problems of the people of the area.
The Gazans for the moment are able to buy what they need in Egypt, as long as they have the money. But where are they going to get it? Moreover, where is the Gaza buying spree across the border going to lead? The economy of Gaza has been ruined by the Israeli blockade. Can it be revived by access to Egypt? That is questionable, no matter how open the frontier remains. The Egyptian economy itself is very poor, and on the frontier with Gaza, prices are already soaring because of the Palestinian influx.
The Egyptian authorities are declaring that the opening of the border is only temporary. But they have been failing to restore the blockade for days. On Jan. 26, 36 Egyptian border police were injured in clashes with Palestinians, two of them seriously, according to Egyptian reports.
It is unlikely that the Mubarak regime can restore the blockade as it was. In fact, the blockade of Gaza in general has been weakened. The Israelis seem to have recognized this by restoring deliveries of diesel fuel to the Gaza power plants.
But the Egyptian authorities may still obstruct cross-border traffic. Moreover, the Egyptian police are still preventing Gazans from going deeper into Egypt than the border area. They may simply be moving the border back for all practical purposes.
Mubarak, who has ruled on the basis of martial law for decades, is confronted by the Islamic movement linked to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, that denounces the Egyptian government for its subordination to Israel and U.S. imperialism and to a considerable extent crystallizes the growing unpopularity of his regime. Thus, obviously, the government wants to limit the contacts between Egyptians and Palestinians.
Some Israeli politicians clearly hope that the opening of the Gaza frontier with Egypt will lead to the annexation of the area by the neighboring Arab state. In its Jan. 24 issue, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported: “Israel wants to sever connections with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and cease supplying it with basic necessities in the wake of the border breach, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Thursday.
“‘We need to understand that when Gaza is open to the other side we lose responsibility for it. So we want to disconnect from it,” Vilnai told Army Radio.” The Zionist state, in fact, has nothing to gain from maintaining control over the small, overcrowded, and poor enclave that would justify the costs. It would be happy to dump it on Egypt.
Moreover, polls have shown that there is a significant, if still minority support, among the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, for annexation to the neighboring Arab states. This is a response to the hopelessness many feel after being exposed for decades to constant Israeli blockades and military attacks. But it would mean the liquidation of the Palestinian nation.
And Palestinians living in the neighboring Arab states have continued to suffer all kinds of discrimination. In Lebanon, for example, Palestinian refugees are still denied basic citizenship rights, including access to education and legal employment.
Thus, Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, reacted strongly to Vilnai’s statements, saying that Egyptian control of Gaza would lead to a lasting division of the Palestinian people.
However, the Egyptian rulers would regard Gaza as a poisoned gift, among other reasons because it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to prevent the Palestinians in Gaza from attacking Israel. The political costs of their suppressing the Palestinian militants would be very high for them, and their failure to do so could undermine their peace deal with Israel.
That also would be the dark side of such an arrangement for the Israelis. Their attempts to punish the Palestinians could lead to clashes with Egypt. There is really no solution for the economic problems of the Palestinian people, or the Egyptians, without breaking from the imperialist control of the region.
Notably, the Egyptian rulers’ attempt to achieve economic development by capitulating to imperialism, both by opening up the country to imperialist business (the Infitah) and by signing a separate peace with Israel have totally failed. The country is sinking deeper and deeper into impoverishment and social chaos.
And it is more and more obvious that the Egyptian rulers cannot sidestep the problem of the oppression and expulsion of an Arab people by an imperialist colonial project in a neighboring country.
Hopefully, the defeat the Mubarak government has just suffered on its frontier with Gaza will help to spur a social revolution in Egypt, since only that can challenge the power of imperialism in the region, including that of the Zionist state.
Such a revolution would have to go beyond the populism and obscurantist demagogy of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. It could only succeed by offering equality and economic hope to all the people living in the region. That is, it would have to be a socialist revolution, offering a fundamentally different alternative to the imperialist-dominated world economy and all the conservative structures. Without that, there are inevitably going to be more threats of “humanitarian disasters” in the region—not just in Gaza.