I don't need to rehash the point that Palestinians in Gaza are living in horrible conditions. So many others have done so - there is a level of poverty and starvation inconceivable to most people occurring on a daily basis in Gaza. That's the reason the flotilla came with supplies. Israel has effectively blockaded Gaza from the outside world for the past few years - particularly since Hamas' election win. Prior to the blockade, around 4,000 goods entered Gaza. After the blockade, only 80 or so were allowed in. After the flotilla raid, Israel expanded this list to include dangerous items like soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies, and candy.
The argument is, since Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization, and Gaza is Hamas' stronghold (versus the West Bank, where Fatah has more power), the blockade on Gaza is reasonable. Through coercion, this policy will eventually lead to Palestinians rightfully abandoning the terrorist Hamas group. Now, it's not entirely clear that Hamas is committed to war with Israel at all costs - they have defined parameters for a peace settlement that are not necessarily all that far off from those from the UN, the Geneva Accords, etc. And, while the blockade is touted as a security measure, leaked documents suggest it is really just economic warfare. The effects, of course, have been devastating. In 2009, the annual GDP per capita in Gaza was barely over $1,000, while it was almost triple that in the West Bank ($2,900). For reference, the same numbers were close to $30,000 in Israel and almost $50,000 in the US.
So, given all that information, is this blockade immoral and unjust? Well, I won't bother with that. Because I don't need to. Fact is, the policy is simply stupid. Yet it continues.
Okay, so here's the problem. Everything we know from scholarly research on the Middle East and political Islam shows that variation in behavior and actions are due to institutions, not culture or religion or structure. In other words, you can't explain why different Islamist groups act the way they do by using culture/religion, or economic development as the explanatory factor. On the other hand, these groups DO vary based on their political incentives. Where Islamist groups are incorporated into politics (but forced to compromise with others, who also compromise), they moderate. Where these groups are kept out of the system, they do not moderate.
This is what we see in so many countries. Where Islamist groups are allowed to be active participants in political contestation (Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, Jordan, Algeria, and, to some extent Egypt), they have incentives to moderate their views to ensure political survival. Where the groups are forced underground (Syria, Libya, and Tunisia), they don’t moderate.
Let's run down the list.
- Jordan: two Islamist groups, IAF and Islah. IAF gets to participate in the political process and moderates (it doesn't on shariah law, but that is also due to the fact that the opposition coalition it is part of puts no pressure on it to moderate on this view - hence, the institution argument still works there), Islah is kept out and doesn't moderate.
- Egypt: the Muslim Brotherhood continuously moderates as it is allowed to participate...and then not allowed...and then allowed...and then not allowed. Mubarak isn't big on consistency, obviously.
- Morocco: the PJD and Al Adl are the two Islamist groups. The PJD was allowed to participate, and it has moderated its views...they went so so far as to not seriously campaign in 2002 because they didn't want to win too much of the vote to piss off the regime. Al Adl has been excluded and has not moderated at all.
- Turkey: AKP has moderated significantly, even distancing themselves from Islamists over time, particularly since they took over the government offices.
In that sense, they created ZERO incentives for Hamas to moderate. Hamas sees no light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. If the offer was, instead, moderate and you'll get to voice your grievances and participate in politics, this strategy could have worked (like it had in all the other cases). But there was no assurance that they would ever get to play ball. And whether people like it or not, allowing Islamist groups to legitimately participate in the political game seems to be the one thing that causes them to moderate. Unfortunately, unless the US, Israel, and Egypt substantially change their policy, there seems to be little hope that Hamas will ever go down that road.