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.

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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.