Cave in to Hamas and all Palestinians suffer

A victory for Hamas is a setback for Mahmoud Abbas.

The tragic events of the past week are creating renewed pressure for Israel and the international community to change its approach to the Gaza Strip. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is deeply concerning.

However, the dilemmas around dealing with the division in the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas regime in Gaza are not new, and not simple. The same problems have been plaguing both Israel and western governments since Hamas violently expelled Fatah forces from Gaza in 2007.

The goals are clear and shared by Israel, the west and pro-western Arab forces in the region: a unified Palestinian Authority under a leadership committed to negotiating a peaceful two-state solution.

The Quartet and Israel have both rightly been concerned to bolster the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is committed to the peace process, and draw support away from Hamas. Any international endorsement for the Hamas regime in Gaza threatens to embolden radicals in the region and their backers in Iran.

But how is the isolation of Hamas regime in Gaza to be achieved without the toll being taken on ordinary Palestinians in Gaza? Israel has not succeeded in finding the right formula, but neither have other governments.

For Israel, this issue has an added dimension.

Hamas is not only an organisation opposing the peace process and allied to Iran and other anti-western forces, it is a militia force that has waged a war of attrition with rockets against towns in southern Israel.

As a result, Israel treats Gaza under the rule of Hamas as enemy territory, and allows only basic humanitarian goods in. It blockades the coastline to stop Iran's shiploads of rockets, such as the Francop, which was captured by Israel last year, reaching Hamas.

The only other state with a border on to Gaza is Egypt, which views Hamas to be no less a threat to its own security. It has been refusing to open its border without Hamas first agreeing to a Palestinian unity agreement and new elections.

Israel's policy has had a very damaging affect on Gaza, but can Hamas expect to enjoy full co-operation from a state it has pledged to destroy?

Hamas must face the fact that no government in Gaza can deliver for the population there without co-operation from Israel.

This co-operation is open to Hamas if it recognises Israel, renounces violence and accepts previous peace agreements. If Hamas was ready to do this, the recent economic success in the West Bank would be bettered in the Gaza Strip, where there are no settlements, and no internal restrictions on movement.

Not only has Hamas failed to do this, it has failed to agree with the Palestinian Authority a date for new elections.

There is an understandable temptation at this stage simply to lean on Israel to relax its restrictions. However, the ramifications are wide. A victory for Hamas is a setback for Abbas, an already fragile leader. Now Abbas can credibly argue that his path of non-violence is delivering for the Palestinians in the West Bank where the Hamas path of intransigence has failed.

What will he say if the international community appears to be caving in to Hamas?

Lorna Fitzsimons is chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.