TEL AVIV, Israel — Reflecting on the past, it’s difficult to imagine that Gaza Strip once had the potential to host a U.S. president and was seen as a possible pathway to Palestinian statehood.
On December 14, 1998, President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton were present at the inauguration of the Gaza International Airport, a symbolic representation of Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood. The airport was considered a landmark achievement in the peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Fast forward several years, and the situation in Gaza took a different turn. The rise of Hamas, the leading Palestinian faction, brought about new challenges and clashes with Israel. Despite the hopes symbolized by the opening of the airport, the dream of a Palestinian state seemed to slip further away.
In the early 2000s, Hamas gained significant prominence, surpassing its rival, the Fatah movement. This period was marked by an odd mix of cooperation and tension between Israelis and Palestinians. While Hamas leaders openly expressed their belief that Israel should not exist, there were instances of informal communication and visits.
In 2005, after years of conflict, Israel withdrew Jewish settlers and troops from Gaza as a response to the Palestinian uprising. This withdrawal initially gave hope for a period of relative calm. However, tensions resurfaced and Gaza found itself entangled in turmoil once again.
During this time, Palestinian journalist Taghreed El-Khodary, who had been a close observer of the region, left for Harvard University on a journalism fellowship. She returned to Gaza to find the situation had further deteriorated. The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza was closed, leaving El-Khodary stranded on the Egyptian side for an agonizing 39 days.
Additionally, the political landscape had shifted. Hamas emerged as the victor in the Palestinian elections, overshadowing Fatah’s long-standing dominance. This development had profound implications, leading to periodic conflicts between Israel and Hamas.
Amidst intense Israeli airstrikes in 2008-2009, El-Khodary contemplated the possibility of losing her life in the violence that engulfed the region.
The hopes of Palestinians, once symbolized by the Gaza airport, seemed increasingly remote as the conflict persisted.
Looking back, the rise of Hamas, the closing of the Rafah border crossing, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian confrontations deeply impacted the dreams of statehood and a peaceful resolution in Gaza.
Q: What is Hamas?
A: Hamas is a Palestinian political and military organization that emerged as a leading faction in the region. It advocates for the liberation of Palestine from Israeli occupation.
Q: What were the Oslo Accords?
A: The Oslo Accords were agreements signed in the 1990s between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), outlining a framework for peace negotiations and the establishment of a Palestinian self-governing authority.
Q: What is Fatah?
A: Fatah is a Palestinian political party founded in the 1950s. It has historically been the dominant faction within the Palestinian leadership.