Gaza Then and Now

When the Gaza Strip was plunged into darkness last week as a result of the Israeli fuel blockade, many people around the world were surprised. But the optimism produced by the Annapolis peace process, which included President George W. Bush’s promise of an agreement in 2008 to create a Palestinian state, was clearly unrealistic.

Gaza is usually viewed in terms of Hamas’s overwhelming support there, but the reality is much different. Opinion polls conducted in Gaza by the Near East Consulting Group in late November 2007 indicated 74% popular support for a peace agreement with Israel. Only 15% would vote for Hamas MP’s or a Hamas presidential candidate, compared to 55% for Fatah candidates. The Annapolis-inspired peace process received 81% support.

Like many territories in the region, Gaza has had a long history of foreign occupation, extending to ancient times. In 1949, the Arab-Israeli war ended with an armistice agreement that divided Palestine into three parts, each under separate political control. Israel encompassed more than 77% of the territory, Jordan was left to rule East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Egypt took control of Gaza. The Palestinian Arab state envisioned by the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan, which was to include Gaza, was never established.

Economic development in the Gaza Strip was limited under Egyptian rule, and the region suffered the burden of absorbing Palestinian refugees fleeing the fighting in the southern part of mandatory Palestine, which would later become Israel. Palestinians’ access to Egypt was restricted, and much of Gaza’s largely unskilled workforce was dependent on the UN Relief Works Administration, which built and maintained the local refugee camps.