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Opinion

An inside story of how the US magnified Palestinian suffering

The covert push to empower Fatah failed. And isolating Hamas just made things worse. But it's not too late to change course.

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She immediately insisted that the Quartet (the US, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) ban all contact with Hamas and support Israel's economic blockade of Gaza. The results of her request were mixed, but Palestinian suffering manifestly intensified. The isolation was supposed to turn angry Palestinians against an ineffective Hamas. As if such blockades had not been tried before.

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Simultaneously, the US military team expanded its efforts to build the Mohammed Dahlan-led militia. President Bush considered Dahlan "our guy." But Dahlan's thugs moved too soon. They roamed Gaza, demanding protection money from businesses and individuals, erecting checkpoints to extort bribes, terrorizing Dahlan's opponents within Fatah, and attacking Hamas members.

Finally, in mid-2007, faced with increasing chaos and the widely known implementation of a US-backed militia, Hamas – the lawfully elected government – struck first. They routed the Fatah gangs, securing control of the entire Gaza Strip, and established civil order.

Its efforts stymied, the US has for more than a year inflexibly backed Israel's embargo of Gaza and its collective punishment of the Strip's 1.5 million residents. The recent six-month cease-fire saw a near cessation of rocket fire into Israel and calm along the border, yet the economic siege was further tightened.

Gaza's economy has collapsed, and the population, displaced for decades from their farms and villages, relies ever more on food aid from Hamas and the UN. The US expresses shock that Gazans resort to using smuggling tunnels for survival rather than passively accepting the suffering inflicted by the embargo. What would we expect Americans to do in the same circumstances? With no easing of the blockade, the missile launches have increased in range and frequency, yielding massive Israeli response.

Our "good," US-supported Palestinians did not vanquish the "bad" Palestinians any more than Washington's Lebanese clients turned on Hezbollah, despite the suffering and death of the 2006 war with Israel. Abbas sits emasculated in Ramallah. The Israelis continue to build settlements while blaming Iran for their troubles, as though the Palestinians have no grievances of their own. And we are further than ever from peace.

Cultural differences aside, Gazans, like Americans, unite in adversity. Neither punishment, nor a cease-fire that extends the embargo will make them accept the loss of their property, 60 years of displacement, or life in squalid refugee camps.

Nor, as decades of experience have proved, will too-clever US manipulation make Palestinians pliable to US and Israeli wishes. US financial and military support for Israel can maintain the status quo indefinitely, if that's what we want, but it cannot resolve fundamental issues or bring peace. For that, we need to talk, even if at arm's length initially, and not leave the hard issues to the end. That only leaves the radicals on both sides the opportunity to undermine peace efforts and extend the senseless loss of life. Until we talk about real issues, both Palestinians and Israelis will be cowering in cellars.

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