Obama Missing an Opportunity in Gaza?

05/25/2011 01:05 pm ET

Now that the dust has settled after the three-week war, the emerging picture suggests that President Obama might apply the same failed policy toward the Gaza Strip that Bush pursued as he left office: Let the people of Gaza suffer in order to turn those same, regular people against Hamas.

"By the policy of the last administration and this administration, we are not going do anything that will strengthen Hamas in the aftermath of Israel's attack," Aaron David Miller told me.

The challenges of this 'no Hamas, at any cost' policy are especially acute in terms of reconstruction of the devastated Strip.

"There are parts of Gaza which have been destroyed -- infrastructure, apartment buildings, water treatment -- all of this is going to have be rebuilt," said Miller, a former top-level adviser to six secretaries of state. "One of the ways to create greater confidence and inject American credibility into this situation would be to get our arms around the problem in Gaza, but we won't or we can't."

You can read all the details and analysts' takes on the situation here in a reported piece I did for IPS.

Israel (basically) controls what gets into and out of the Strip, and reconstruction requires big materials that are difficult to sneak through tunnels into Egypt. The IDF isn't going hand over anything into the tightly-sealed Strip with potential to rearm Hamas. That means very few large building supplies, like steel and other materials.

So instead, all the reconstruction aid appears poised to flow through the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmood Abbas. Abbas's Fatah Faction is known for corruption and has zero presence on the ground in Gaza. The international community is telling Gazans to "meet the new boss, same as the old Abbas." That notion, almost everyone agrees, means that rebuilding Gaza and getting a foothold for economic development there will be severely "retarded," to use Miller's word.

The whole policy, explicitly endorsed by Bush at the time, is to choke Hamas by choking the people of the Gaza. By funneling all resources through the PA, the West hopes (rather in vain) to strengthen Abbas's hand among the whole of Palestinian society. It gives some close watchers of the Israeli-Arab conflict pause that Obama may be continuing this policy and has signaled no review of it (though George Mitchell, U.S. envoy to conflict, has made no formal recommendations).

The major problem with that is that it's obvious to many in the peace community that a two-state solution can't be built on a "divided Palestinian house," and that by keeping the blockade on Hamas and, therefore, Gaza as a whole, you are all but making impossible the kind of economic development that could be a harbinger of a viable Palestinian state. It's destroying confidence in the peace process in Palestine by stifling any hope for the kind of essential Palestinian unity that is even capable of making a deal in the first place.

The Gaza Strip has been plagued by underdevelopment for some time now, with nearly three quarters of its residents registered as UN refugees. Things have only gotten worse after the latest Israeli attack. Many commentators and experts think the need to rebuild could be an opportunity for the international community, but it requires someone to think outside the box here. Or inside the Strip, as it were.