The World from Berlin Hamastan the Enemy

After months of enduring constant rocket fire from across the border in the Gaza Strip, Israel has declared the Hamas-controlled region to be 'enemy territory.' But German commentators on Thursday fear that the move might backfire.

Israel has declared Gaza an "enemy territory."

Israel has declared Gaza an "enemy territory."

Israeli politicians have been referring to the Gaza Strip derisively as "Hamastan" for months. On Wednesday, though, the government came up with a new designation for the Palestinian territory controlled by the radical Islamists from Hamas: "enemy territory."

The move paves the way for significant additional cuts to power and fuel supplies to the region. Israel is hoping that it will up the pressure on Hamas to finally curb rocket fire into Israeli territory from launch pads in Gaza. The missiles have become almost a daily occurrence and a projectile last week injured 60 Israeli soldiers when it landed in an army camp.

The "enemy territory" designation could also be preparatory to a possible invasion of the Gaza Strip. Israel has been hinting for weeks that such a move may be imminent and has been launching retaliatory airstrikes and limited ground raids.

Olmert's office insisted that humanitarian deliveries would not be affected, but the move has been blasted by the human rights group Gisha, which seeks greater freedom of movement for Gaza residents. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement holds sway in the West Bank, said: "This oppressive decision will only strengthen the choking embargo imposed on 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip, increase their suffering and deepen their tragedy."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the region on Thursday to set up a Middle East peace conference for this autumn, will likely find her mission that much more difficult. Despite the Palestinian split, forced in June when Hamas threw Fatah out of the coastal region, US President George W. Bush is hopeful that progress can be made toward an eventual peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

German commentators take a closer look at Israel's move on Thursday.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Israel's blockade threat is actually an expression of its helplessness. It is the least bad in a range of terrible options … Another Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip would lead to a high number of victims on all sides and would also be widely opposed in Israel."

"However, the fact that all 1.4 million people in Gaza will suffer, makes this strategy very problematic -- from a humanitarian, legal and political point of view…. The inevitable increase in the misery in Gaza will bring renewed criticism of Israel -- particularly as it is still formally the occupying power and, therefore, responsible for providing for the territory."

"But in reality, Gaza is today a kind of no man's land, a self-declared theocracy under the control of a group that the EU classifies as a terrorist organization. Israel wants to force the Islamists to stop their attacks. But there remains the fear that Hamas wants to bomb its way into international recognition."

Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"(Israel's decision to declare Gaza 'enemy territory') comes in answer to the daily rockets coming from Gaza and is a response to the ever-increasing pressure for revenge coming from within Israel. But is this 'penalty,' which is aimed at Hamas but will hit the entire population, proportionate? Could it possible backfire and strengthen Hamas while weakening Palestinian President Abbas, with whom Israel is negotiating? One can easily see Israel's move as a political and moral mistake. But, Israel's reliance on airstrikes to combat the rocket launches coming from Gaza has so far proven ineffective. The constant barrage of rockets cannot be left unanswered. Hamas is, at the end of the day, responsible."

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, meanwhile, is getting tired of the entire conflict and thinks the rest of the world is too:

"The conflict seems to have become second tier; everything has already been said. Proof of this can be found in the agenda of the Middle East conference … set to begin in a few weeks -- there is nothing on it. A daily schedule has yet to be set, nor is it even clear who is going to attend and exactly when the conference is to take place. And as usual, the main actors are bickering: The Palestinians want to declare the foundation of a state at the conference, but would settle for identifying the borders of a future state. Israel, for its part, is at most prepared to agree to declare its intentions to eventually create a Palestinian state. How many times have we heard that before?"

"The conflict is simply not so important anymore…. The future of the world will be shaped by nuclear threats and exploding populations and is simply no longer dependent on the outcome of the Middle East conflict. The Palestinians are afraid of receding into meaninglessness, whereas Israel's position is actually strengthened as the conflict loses relevance. The less interest there is in the conflict, the less pressure the Israelis feel to end the settlement of the West Bank."

"At the moment, Israel could easily live with an unfinished Palestinian half-state. Such a solution would rob the conflict of even more meaning -- it would recede to just another in a long list of worldwide border conflicts. But a halfway, temporary Palestinian state combined with the constant postponement of a solution to the primary points of conflict would be the end of the Palestinian dream of independence."

-- Charles Hawley, 11:30 a.m. CET


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