This is a fairly new thought to me, as I'm guessing it will be to many liberal-minded hand-wringers in the West, but Hamas appear to have figured out how to turn the tables on all the other major players in the Middle East and, not incidentally, how to care for their own people at the same time.
On Wednesday, in what appears to have been a well-organized campaign, Hamas blew up and bulldozed through sections of the wall that had divided the Egyptian and Gazan sides of the town of Rafah. Thousands of Gazans streamed through in search of basic commodities, having survived a low-level seige by Israel for almost two years plus the immediate provocation, a major shutdown of power and fuel over the previous four days. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak finally accepted that he could not use his security forces to stop the surge into the Sinai, and that's where we are now.
In my short-sighted and pessimistic Western despair, I had never imagined Gaza as anything more than a prison-camp, permanently cut off from the West Bank and with its own coastline patrolled by Israeli naval guards. But in Gaza, it appears, they have been thinking creatively, as we should have known people in such desperate circs would do.
We can't know this soon what might happen now, but the vision of Gaza-Sinai, which makes so much sense geographically and economically, especially in the absence of any sense coming from any other direction, lifts my heart, as it must many hearts throughout the Middle East. Mubarak may not want this any more than Olmert or Abbas or BushCo do, but Mubarak has other realities to answer to.
Think of it: ports for Gaza, two ports, al-Arish and Port Said. Well. We'll see. For wonderful background, see Jonathan Edelstein at Helena Cobban's Just World News and Joel Beinin at Juan Cole's Informed Comment. From Edelstein's report:
As for Bob Spencer's speculation that Gaza might "become some sort of loosely associated part of Egypt," I wonder if it might end up more the other way. I did some speculating of my own about the Gaza-Sinai relationship in late 2005, at the time the Rafah crossing reopened and before the rocket-closure-raid cycle started developing its own logic. The key points were that Gaza has six times the population of North Sinai governorate, that there was more money in Gaza than in that part of Egypt, that Egyptian security control in that region was tenuous and that the ports of al-Arish and Port Said had the potential to become a key Palestinian import-export route. All these, except possibly the second, remain true, and given that it will be a political impossibility for Mubarak to re-close the border (although he has built walls against his own Bedouin citizens), Sinai al-Shamaliyya might end up becoming a de facto Palestinian economic appendage. Interesting times.
We can hope. And we can be glad that children are eating tonight, warm tonight, safe in the arms of family with some hope tonight.
H/t Marcy at emptywheel.