It's been a good year for strawberries in Gaza. Plentiful rains and careful husbandry have made them plump and red and juicy. Shame so many rotted at the Karni crossing because Israel wouldn't let them through for export, citing security concerns.
You might think that is because of concern over the new, Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories. Some anxiety is to be expected, after all, when a group endorsing suicide bombing has been elected. But you'd be wrong. The Israelis closed Karni on 15 January, before Hamas came to power. They said the Palestinians were digging tunnels under the crossing, presumably so terrorists could sneak through. The UN says that trenches dug by the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the orders of the Israelis found no tunnels. Yet still tonnes of strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers lie rotting, robbing the Palestinians of $500,000 a day.
You might think from the Israelis' statements that their refusal to deal with Hamas signifies a new policy, as if they had previously co-operated with the PA. Again, you'd be wrong. Israel boycotted the PA when it was led by Yasser Arafat, and has dealt only spasmodically with his "moderate" successor, Mahmoud Abbas. Ariel Sharon decided that Israel would change reality on the ground without negotiation, so he withdrew Jewish settlements from Gaza unilaterally. He was biding his time until his next move when he suffered his massive stroke in January.
In some ways it was a good idea to "change the strategic equation", as one Israeli general put it. Most Palestinians were delighted to see the settlers leave and Israel was probably right that negotiations would have ended in impasse. But diplomats who bleat that the election of Hamas will damage the "peace process" and the "road map" must have been asleep for years. Have they not noticed that there has been neither peace nor process since the Americans stopped applying pressure to either side? The truck careered off the road and the map was abandoned. The Israelis have been building a wall to insulate themselves from terror attacks and annex Palestinian land, while the Palestinians have been unilaterally squabbling and--in the case of former government officials--stealing. The result was the election of Hamas: a protest against the status quo.
Now the Israeli government says it won't hand over the $50m a month in import and export taxes it collects on behalf of the PA. Note that this is not Israel's money; it is Palestinian money, hut the previous PA was foolish enough to allow Israel to collect it in the interests of efficiency. The tax accounts for about half the PA's revenue, most of the rest being made up by European and US aid--which may yet be withheld in protest at Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel and lay down arms. …