Gaza: Observations From British North America

Remember how the story went. In the 1840s British North Americans demanded that the Colonial Office and British Government stop paying the salaries of colonial Executive Councillors. They demanded the privilege (to listen to some of them, the God-given right) to choose, pay, and dismiss, their own political executives. And they won.

In 1848 the principle of “responsible government” was introduced in first one colony and then another; the British cut their funding, and British North Americans gained control of domestic governments and legislation.

Today the West is paying salaries in Gaza, funding humanitarian projects, and – understandably – attempting to supervise the funding. Has the West become a colonizing power?

The picture is muddled. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attempting to get a bill through Congress that would give the Gazans an extra $840 million. Members of Congress are asking about mechanisms to make certain that no Hamas representatives are on the payroll. Mrs. Clinton admits that there have been discussions in Cairo about allowing at least some Hamas ministers to join a “unity government.” She says that the State Department would like the flexibility to support such an arrangement.

So who’s governing in Gaza? Who is choosing the governors? Not the Gazans.

The situation is sad beyond belief. One thinks of Gaza’s impoverished children. And it’s frightening. Israel’s very existence is at stake – Israel’s hopes for respite from attack.

And yet, says the small voice of political science at the back of one’s mind: isn’t it interesting to see the logic of institutions at work? Of course American representatives must ask for an accounting of the American taxpayers’ money at work. That’s their role as members of a democratic assembly. But to ask for an accounting of money spent in a foreign country curtails that country’s democratic choices and turns American administrators into imperialists.

(For information on Gaza I’m indebted to the Jewish World Review, an “on-line magazine.”)

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