Say it softly, the Middle East is a wee bit unstable …

The two Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are now two separate countries.

Hamas, in what appears to have been a long-planned attack, surprised Fatah in the Gaza Strip and, after several days of intense fighting, have overwhelmed their erstwhile alliance partners in government. The bizarre war included the actual residents of Gaza organising an ad hoc protest to declare their desire for peace. Hamas and Fatah soldiers fired on them, killing dozens. Recognising the inevitable, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President, dissolved parliament.

The Israelis are in a tough position. They don’t want Hamas in charge but they can’t leap in to defend one side against the other. Neither can they supply arms when it is clear that those arms will fall into the hands of Hamas. So they simply closed their borders and watched nervously from the outside. Along with everyone else. The real failure appears to be with the Egyptians who have allowed Hamas to use their shared border to smuggle the arms that formed part of this well-laid plan.

So, at the dawn of the weekend, this is the situation. Israel now has two semi-autonomous Palestinian nations to deal with, one in the West Bank and one in the Gaza Strip.

Negotiations with Fatah will probably go ahead but there is no way that Hamas will negotiate. Now, here I need advice from anyone with knowledge of international law.

To all intents and purposes Hamas is now a government in a sovereign state. If they insist on firing rockets over the border into a contiguous and sovereign neighbour then they have committed an act of war. Instead of the tit-for-tat that we have seen over the past few years, we may see an all-out occupation. Perhaps that is what Hamas wants in an effort to further destabilise the region. Perhaps not.

A continent away is Zimbabwe. A few years ago Robert Mugabe, their ageing dictator-for-life, stripped farmers of their land and handed it out to his cronies in government. Food production plummeted along with everything else. 80% of the country is unemployed and 33% are in exile; 4 million of them in South Africa. It is expected that the country will collapse shortly. Inflation is well over 3,700% but is spiralling out of control with prices doubling every month. At this rate economists expect it to bludgeon up to the improbable level of 500,000% over the next six months. At which point life isn’t worth living, really and we South Africans should expect an overwhelming exodus in our direction.

Zimbabwe, Palestine. Two disasters, both man-made. And in neither case can you conceivably point out that this is a result of international capitalism (or any capitalism for that matter). We may worry about employers exploiting workers, or polluting the environment, but to really fuck things up completely takes politics.

2 replies »

  1. “We may worry about employers exploiting workers, or polluting the environment, but to really fuck things up completely takes politics.”

    Gavin, you sound like Mark Twain. That’s the highest compliment this writer can pay you. 😉

    What I’d like to know about is possible outcomes. Will this (perhaps planned) destabilization of Gaza precipitate war between Israel and neighbors such as Jordan, Syria, Egypt? Would Saudi-Arabia get involved? Or is this a scenario ripe for Al Qaeda? (Do you think maybe Al Qaeda has infiltrated Hamas to foment this, or is this part of some larger Hamas plan to force the “Palestinian state” issue?)

    As for Zimbabwe, how will S.A. handle such a refugee influx? What will it take to turn Zimbabwe around? Will other countries invade? Or will Zimbabwe turn into another Somalia? Or is it already? What do you foresee S.A. doing to protect its interests?

  2. Ah, thank you 🙂

    Al Qaeda, as far as anyone can make out, seems to be more of a dooms-day cult than anything else. They’re not fighting for anything (a global caliphate, a return to 600 year-old borders??). On the other hand Hamas very definitely is, in their distorted way, fighting for.

    The other Arab states haven’t done a thing for the Palestinians in 40 years, why start now? There are astonishingly large Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon where – despite a large local Palestinian population (and in Jordan, which is actually a Palestinian country) they are forbidden to integrate (and there’s currently a little war going on in those Lebanese camps as well). Israel’s neighbours enjoy the instability it causes Israel (and the US) so that they can’t interfere in the region too much.

    I don’t think it’s that “aha” moment that allows for real change to happen. The Israelis are looking for excuses not to lead the process and Hamas just handed it to them. There’ll probably be some sort of peace conference in Saudi Arabia shortly which won’t really solve anything but gives everyone a chance to be on TV.

    Zimbabwe? Haven’t you heard, we have this marvellous thing called “quiet diplomacy”. It’s where the South African government accuses Israel of being a fascist regime but declares Zimbabwe a well-run state. Our attitude is to prop up Mugabe so that the country doesn’t collapse and deport the refugees as soon as we catch them. Since everyone is on strike, that’s getting harder.

    Zimbabwe has to collapse at some point. I’m not sure about this six-month timetable though. I’ve got a researcher in Zim now and we want to know how much of the economy is still cash-based. It is a rich country, well able to feed itself (in good times) and so a barter society would be stable for a long time. But, sooner or later, Mugabe has to die (he’s in his 80s) and then all hell will break loose. And, no, South Africa will not be prepared for it.

    I doubt that anyone would invade Zim – they’re surrounded by fairly placid neighbours. And we wouldn’t allow it, so that’s alright.