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Recent History Of Gaza Examined


Philip Wilcox is with us in the studio to explain the recent history of Gaza. He's a former chief of mission and U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Welcome to the program.

Mr. PHILIP WILCOX (President, Foundation for Middle East Peace): Thank you.

BLOCK: Let's start back in 1987, with the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli control. What happened?

Mr. WILCOX: It was a spontaneous uprising by young people. It was sparked by a traffic accident in Gaza by an Israeli vehicle that killed a young Gazan, but it spread like wildfire. And it was primarily a peaceful protest, there were no firearms. And it was not organized by the PLO in Tunis, it was a local initiative.

BLOCK: And it goes on for years, it goes on until1993.

Mr. WILCOX: It went on for almost four years until it finally waned. And during that period, the Hamas Islamic Palestinian movement emerged. And during the period of the first intifada, there was a kind of tacit collaboration between the secular nationalist PLO Fatah and the newly emerging Hamas forces.

BLOCK: Let's jump forward to 1993. The Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel, at that time much of Gaza comes under the authority of the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat. And then, in 2000, the second intifada breaks out, very different tactically, strategically from the first.

Mr. WILCOX: Very different. It was a product of immense frustration and despair over the failure of the Oslo period, which had created great hopes and expectations that the Palestinians would be liberated and that there would be two states. That despair contributed to the growth of more extreme and violent elements and Hamas was in the lead.

BLOCK: And we saw a lot of suicide bombings within Israel at this time.

Mr. WILCOX: Yes. The suicide bombings by Hamas actually emerged in the 1990s, but they were less frequent. They became a regular tactic of Hamas in - during the second intifada and even the Fatah secularist groups - some militias emulated Hamas in order to compete for public favor, and there were Fatah suicide attacks, as well.

BLOCK: Mm hmm. In 2005, the Israeli government decides to dismantle all the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. Israel's military rule ends and there's a power vacuum. Describe what follows.

Mr. WILCOX: Hamas was much better organized. With the death of Yasser Arafat, who, during his latter years, his capabilities declined and the Fatah apparatus was corrupt and ineffectual. Hamas capitalized on this by promoting themselves as clean, opposing corruption, more organized, more interested in the public welfare and more interested in liberating Palestinians from Israel.

BLOCK: Hamas also wins legislative elections, ultimately - after fighting with Fatah - seizes control of Gaza.

Mr. WILCOX: Yes. And Hamas won a 40-percent plurality. Not a majority by any means, but although they became the government and felt they had a mandate to govern, they were rejected by Israel and by the United States and the Western world.

BLOCK: Mm hmm. When Hamas seizes control of Gaza in 2007, it also effectively splits Gaza from the West Bank, in terms of political control. How has that split between the West Bank and Gaza affected life there?

Mr. WILCOX: It has gravely affected the life of the Gazans because of a very tough closure and economic boycott imposed by the Israelis, with the support of the United States and the Quartet. And the purpose of that was to alienate the Gazan public from Hamas so that they would support the Fatah in the West Bank. That policy has failed and Hamas has become even stronger in Gaza during the last two years.

BLOCK: Philip Wilcox, thanks for coming in.

Mr. WILCOX: Thank you.

BLOCK: Philip Wilcox is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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