Most of us weren’t present during the attack on the flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean, and we should wait until all the facts are known before rushing to judgment. As often happens in these situations, both sides have hastened to fit events into whatever preconception they already had: either that Israeli commandos were defending themselves against Islamist radicals who had deliberately sought to provoke the use of force, or that there was an act of Israeli state terrorism against unarmed civilians. All we can say for certain at this stage is that something went horribly wrong.
We can, though, add one more observation. The current approach to Gaza — the approach supported by the UN, the EU and, indeed, Israel — is inadvertently fuelling violence. The priority of all the players, including Israel, is to “avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza” by pouring aid into that unhappy place. In doing so, though, they have helped to create the perfect terrorist habitat.
The thinking is that paramilitarism can be killed with kindness; that the grievances of Gaza can be buried beneath an avalanche of euros. This policy is demonstrably failing. Palestinians are the most heavily subsidised people, in per capita terms, on the planet. Far from de-escalating the conflict, aid on such a scale has driven out enterprise and self-reliance and encouraged cronyism, resentment and rage.
Israel’s intention is clear enough: it wants to “reward” Fatah, by loosening restrictions on the West Bank, while “punishing” Hamas by blockading Gaza. But this policy is having the opposite effect, identifying Fatah in the eyes of many Palestinians with an enemy power. When I raised this issue with Israeli officials earlier this year, they told me that they were mitigating the policy by allowing through humanitarian convoys. This, I replied, was precisely the problem.
What Gaza needs is not aid but trade: the creation of a functioning society based on secure property rights and free commerce. Now plainly this isn’t going to happen immediately. Israelis point, with justice, to the decrease in cross-border terrorist attacks and suicide bombs that followed the sealing of the frontier. Lifting all restrictions tomorrow would lead to an influx of Iranian rocketry.
In the long run, though, Israel must work towards the establishment of a stable state as its neighbour. Palestinians are an enterprising people who, in other Arab countries, generally form the professional and mercantile classes. In Gaza, however, a combination of failed leadership, external blockade and infusions of aid have destroyed civic society. If there were a propertied bourgeoisie in Gaza, its members would be intolerant of freelance rocket-launchers operating from their facilities and attracting reprisals. If there were Gazan businessmen, they would want to remain on good terms with their customers, including their Israeli customers.
Which is why the focus of the international community should be on integrating Palestine into the world economy — a process which must involve a progressive easing of commercial frontier controls (no one is suggesting lifting all security checks in the current climate). It won’t be easy. But it is surely better than carrying on as we are now, with a whirling entropy in Gaza that draws in resources and spews out bombers.