The four-day battle for Gaza changed the future of the Middle-East. The Islamist group Hamas overcame its ineffective Fatah rivals, putting paid to hopes for a two-state solution in the region.
In the 10 days since Gaza fell under Hamas rule, many commentators have predicted the creation of an Islamist state and two separate Palestinian territories.
Hamas stresses it wants neither of these options and has called for renewed national dialogue, but this has been rejected by President Mahmoud Abbas who said he would not deal with “killers” intent on building an “emirate of darkness”.
Gaza will struggle to survive on its own. Of its 1.5m people, 63% live beneath the poverty line, almost 48% are under the age of 14 and the labour force numbers just 259,000. Its economy has declined sharply since 2000 and the security wall along its borders enhances its isolation. It has no substantial industry and the UN has warned that a “major” humanitarian crisis looms.
Gaza is also in the midst of a ‘brain drain’ as many middle-class families and individuals leave in search of a more prosperous life elsewhere. The region is losing not only educated workers, but valuable capital which could help rebuild its economy.
The international community’s rallying around Abbas – both in terms of releasing frozen tax funds and providing financial aid – will only deepen divisions among the Palestinians. It may force Hamas to seek economic aid from its allies in Syria and Iran, raising the prospect of Gaza becoming a client state of these two regional powers.
Egypt fears this will boost the banned Muslim Brotherhood while Israel fears renewed terror attacks on its territory.
Hamas knows it will face a massive response if it attacks Israel. But, faced with economic and diplomatic isolation, it may be pressured into this by external forces such as Iran in exchange for aid and promises of protection. Should this come to pass the chances of a wider regional war would increase dramatically.
This is a frightening scenario, but one the world must be prepared for and do its utmost to prevent.