Gaza could have been a model of the future Palestinian state. Instead, it is a place of repression and aggression.
The deaths of Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, and of Israelis (Muslim and Christian Arab, and Druse and Bedouin, as well as Jewish, don't forget, in Ashdod and Sderot), are hardly ennobled by the sordid realization that the timing of the carnage has been determined by three sets of electoral calculation.
The first and the most obvious is the interregnum between U.S. presidencies, in which only the faintest of squeaks will be heard from our political class as our weapons are used to establish later bridgeheads and to realign our uneasy simultaneous patronage of the Israeli and the Egyptian and the Palestinian establishments. Benny Morris, one of the most tough-minded Israeli intellectual commentators, used to speculate that Israel would employ the Bush-Obama transition to strike at Iranian nuclear sites. He may have been wrong in the short term, but, in fact, the current attack on Gaza and Hamas is the same war in a micro or proxy form.
Second comes the impending February election in Israel. Until last week, Benjamin Netanyahu was strongly favored to come back as the man whose hard line against territorial concessions had been vindicated by the use of long-evacuated Gaza as a launching pad for random missile attacks. It now seems unlikely that he can easily outbid the current ruling coalition, at least from the hawkish right. (Remember that all the nonsense of the so-called "Al-Aqsa intifada," which wasted so much time and life in the last decades, was first instigated by an electoral rivalry between Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, in which the latter showed himself more hard-line than the former by waddling militantly across the Temple Mount in the company of an armed band. For such vanities do children end up screaming in the streets over the mangled bodies of their parents—and vice, if I may so phrase it, versa.)
The third consideration, and the least noticed, is the fact that this month is the one where new elections for the Palestinian Authority have to be called by President Mahmoud Abbas, if not actually held. Before the new year, I talked to one or two knowledgeable Palestinians who argued that, under then-present conditions, Hamas had to hope that such elections would not soon take place. Life in Islamic Gaza was not such as to induce ecstatic happiness and prosperity among the populace: In common with many fundamentalist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood in its local Palestinian incarnation had badly overplayed its hand. It seems improbable that we'll ever know what would have happened in a free vote, but I think it's safe to say that recent events have further postponed the emergence of a democratic and secular alternative among the Palestinians. I even think it's possible that some people in Israel and some other people in Gaza do not want to see the emergence of such a force, but let me not be cynical.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Israeli airstrike on southern Gaza by Getty Images.