MORE on Palestinian Cherry Tomatoes & the Prespects For Peace
The U.S. and other Western powers are pushing for a new Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, to help contain Iran and undercut the appeal of al Qaeda and radical Islam. A grand-scale Middle East peace conference is planned for this fall.
The underlying assumption is that radical Islam has something do to with Israel-related political grievances. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made this argument repeatedly. If he and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice roll up their sleeves and work toward a permanent settlement of the Palestinian issue, so the logic goes, they will be providing a powerful diplomatic antidote to the jihadism threatening the security of the entire Western alliance.
But is this really the case? In August 2005, the international community embraced Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, largely for these very reasons. The “occupation,” which they tirelessly argued was polarizing the Middle East, would be rolled back. The Palestinians would take over Israeli greenhouses and export cherry tomatoes to the European Union. They would pump gas from lucrative off-shore gas fields being developed by British Gas to bring in huge revenues to the Palestinian people.
But moderation did not ensue. Five months after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas won the Palestinian elections and formed a government. In March 2006, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat that al Qaeda had penetrated the area. A month later, the newspaper reported that al Qaeda operatives had infiltrated Gaza from Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.
Huge amounts of weapons and cash also poured into Gaza. And regardless of their tactical disagreements, Hamas did not fight al Qaeda but in fact joined forces with one of its Gaza affiliates, the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam), in kidnapping Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit. In July 2007, the head of al Qaeda in Egypt fled that country’s security forces to hide in Gaza.
In short, the U.S. and its Western allies thought that Israel’s Gaza pullout would establish the foundations of a Palestinian state and thus reduce the flames of radical Islamic rage. Instead they got an al-Qaeda sanctuary on the shores of the Mediterranean.
The source of their error was a popular misconception in policymaking circles of what causes radical Islam to thrive. The gasoline fueling al Qaeda has been its sense of victory, not political grievances.