What a ‘Free Palestine’ Means in Practice

Imagine that the campus protesters got their wish tomorrow: Not just “Cease-fire Now” in Gaza, but the creation of a “Free Palestine.” How free would that future Palestine be?

This isn’t a speculative question. Palestinians have had a measure of self-rule in the West Bank since Yasir Arafat entered Gaza in 1994. Israel evacuated its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority that same year and Hamas won legislative elections the next.

How much freedom have Palestinians enjoyed since then? They and their allies abroad argue they’ve had none because Israel has denied it to them — not just by refusing to accept a Palestinian state, but also through road closings, land expropriations in the West Bank, an economic blockade of Gaza and frequent Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas.

There’s partial truth to this. Israeli settlers have run riot against their Palestinian neighbors. The Israeli government imposes heavy and unequal restrictions on Palestinians, as my colleague Megan Stack has reported in painful detail. The frequent mistreatment of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints is a long-running disgrace.

At the same time, Israeli leaders have repeatedly offered the creation of a Palestinian state — offers Arafat and Abbas rejected. Charges of an Israeli economic blockade tend to ignore a few facts: Gaza also has a border with Egypt; many goods, including fuel and electricity, flowed from Israel to Gaza up until Oct. 7; much of the international aid given to Gaza to build civilian infrastructure was diverted for Hamas’s tunnels, and Hamas used the territory to start five wars with Israel in 15 years.

But there’s an equally important dimension to Palestinian politics that is purely domestic. When Abbas was elected in 2005, it was for a four-year term. He is now in the 20th year of his four-year term. When Hamas won the 2006 legislative elections, it didn’t just defeat its political rivals in Fatah. It overthrew the Palestinian Authority completely in Gaza after a brief civil war and followed it up with a killing, torture and terror spree that eliminated all political opposition.

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