Israel's intentional and systematic policy of separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip is one of three major Israeli strategies vis-a-vis the occupied territories.
The second is the continuous expansion of illegal settlements in different parts of the West Bank. This strategy aims at acquiring the maximum possible amount of non-populated areas of the West Bank while dividing the different populated areas from each other.
The third is the revival of the Israeli civil administration, a body that was, until Oslo, the arm of the Israeli occupation that maintained control over the day-to-day aspects of the lives of Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Together, the three strategies are designed to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state and the possibility of any coherent Palestinian self-rule. Of the three, separating Gaza and the West Bank from each other probably constitutes the most immediate strategic threat against the Palestinian objective of establishing an independent state in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Under the cover of Israeli security concerns and after the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Israel stopped movement from Gaza to Israel and of course through Israel to the West Bank. That includes all kinds of movement, whether that of cargo and goods--which has been severely restricted as a result of policies at the Karni crossing--or the movement of people, whether for commercial, political, administrative or social purposes.
While movement between the two parts of the Palestinian territory is almost completely restricted, Gazans are, with difficulty and to a very limited extent, able to travel to or through Egypt while Palestinians in the West Bank are able, again to a limited extent, to travel to or through Jordan.
Theoretically then, a Gazan can travel to Cairo, Damascus, Tehran, London or New York, but not to Ramallah, Hebron or Nablus, where his presence is prohibited by Israel. In time, this situation is likely to lead to total political, economic and social disintegration between the two territories and will ultimately jeopardize any practical possibility of establishing an integral state.
This Israeli policy, furthermore, has resulted in severe negative effects on all aspects of Palestinian lives. The first, and most dangerous, is the economic effect. The Palestinian economy, already small and isolated, has regressed. The closures have discouraged investments, because the market of the Palestinian territory is small and purchasing power is weak, while the ability to export is limited by Israeli restrictions.
With separation of the West Bank from Gaza a further shrinkage of the market happens, whereby a producer in Gaza can only market to Gaza, and the same in the West Bank. This will further hinder the possibility of economic growth and discourage investment and consequently cause further unemployment and economic deterioration.
World Bank and UN reports have explicitly fingered the Israeli restrictions on movement as the primary cause of the economic deterioration, particularly the increase in unemployment and poverty.
The latest numbers from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics have also shown significant differences in all economic indicators between the West Bank and Gaza, with, for example, a ten percent difference in the rate of unemployment between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Another area of significant damage is the performance of Palestinian administration, whether Palestinian Authority institutions, the Cabinet, the different ministries or other central government institutions, or non-government institutions. Civil servants at all levels have been restricted from moving between the West Bank and Gaza in the last four to five years. Even ministers faced severe restrictions on their movement until it was completely curtailed in the last year.
That negatively affected the different functions and services of these supposedly central government bodies to the extent that eventually each of these institutions has become two, one for each territory. This situation also applies to non-government developmental and humanitarian organizations.
Finally, another serious consequence of Israel's policy of disassembling the Palestinian territory is growing discrepancies in the politics and discourse of Gaza and the West Bank. The last poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center indicated serious differences between the two publics on most issues.
Separating Gaza from the West Bank and Gaza from the rest of the world is also a direct cause of the desperate situation that led to the recent internal violence and chaos, and will continue to contribute to the rise in radicalization and extremism in Gaza.- Published 5/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
One of the biggest mistakes of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process of the 1990s concerns the 40-some kilometers of Israeli territory that separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. The Oslo agreements stipulate that the two Palestinian territories should be treated as one; the PLO accepted autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank and demanded that these Palestinian territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War become the Palestinian state. Generally speaking, Israel accepted that such a "split state" would or could come into existence. But nowhere did a binding agreement stipulate that the two territories had to be physically linked--by a dedicated bridge or tunnel or sunken thruway.
Ideas and suggestions for such a link were plentiful during the '90s. Japan and the European Union even discussed, at various stages, the possibility of funding a land bridge or sunken road. But nothing happened, in part due to legitimate Israeli security concerns lest Palestinian terrorists abuse the transportation artery, but also because the issue was not assigned high enough priority. Today no one talks about such a link any more, and the barrier to Palestinian unity constituted by the 40-some kilometers appears to be growing rapidly in significance.
Indeed, in recent years a broad spectrum of Israeli planners and researchers has responded to strategic events on the ground by rethinking the Gaza-West Bank political link. Some of these events relate directly, and negatively, to the Palestinian state-building project: the collapse of Oslo-based peace talks, the suicide violence of the second intifada, the rise of Hamas to power with its stronghold in Gaza and, consequently, growing skepticism in Israel regarding the feasibility of finding a viable Palestinian partner for a two-state solution.
Additional relevant strategic events are regional in nature: the growing Iranian threat from the east and the dangers of Iraq fragmenting into militant Sunni and Shi'ite states pose a threat to Jordan and call into question the advisability of Israel withdrawing from the Jordan Valley, which constitutes some 30 percent of West Bank territory. The rise of militant Shi'ite and Sunni Islam portrays Hamas' domination of Gaza in a new and problematic light.
Hence some of these thinkers call into question the logic of attaching Gaza to the West Bank. Some have suggested enshrining a Fateh-dominated state in the West Bank and isolating Hamas in Gaza. Others wish to turn Gaza into the dominant part of a Palestinian political entity by persuading Egypt to cede to it territory from northeast Sinai even as Israel annexes parts of the West Bank. A related school of thought sees in the Palestinian failure at self-government an opportunity to deliver Gaza back to Egyptian rule or domination and the West Bank to Jordan.
Israel's removal from Gaza of its settlements and military units in August 2005 already created a new status for the Strip. Unlike the West Bank, Gaza enjoys full territorial contiguity and a land passage to a neighboring Arab country. While most of the world does not accept the Israeli argument that these factors have altered Gaza's status de jure, clearly there is now a difference de facto.
But permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank is decidedly not the prevailing operative view among Israeli governing and security circles. It is simply incorrect for Palestinians to argue that Israel is deliberately acting to separate Gaza from the West Bank by radically reducing the capacity of goods and people to move from one to the other. As in so many areas of Palestinian-Israeli interaction, here too the inclination to attribute to Israel nefarious plots to dismember Palestine and prevent peace gives the government in Jerusalem far too much "credit" for Machiavellian thinking.
Israel has closed passages and transportation routes that link Gaza to Israel and the West Bank because of acts of Palestinian terrorism that have been directed at those passages. The same Palestinians who take pride in such terrorist acts or do nothing to prevent them then turn around and blame Israel for reacting to protect itself. According to UN sources, the Gaza passages were open to a greater extent in late February than previously, despite ongoing Qassam rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that violates the ceasefire.
The Olmert government and indeed the majority of Israelis still consider a single Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank the preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Granted, Israel's government is weak and seemingly incapable of sustaining a peace process that would create such a state. But the governmental situation in Palestine is far worse. Palestinians today can only blame themselves for the growing chasm that separates Gaza and the West Bank.
Undoubtedly, both Israeli governments and the international community missed many opportunities over the past 13 years since the formation of the PA to build an extra-territorial land bridge that would permanently link Gaza and the West Bank and increase the likelihood of a successful two-state solution. And yet, perhaps the most discouraging take on this issue today is the near certainty that, had the land bridge indeed been up and functioning and Gaza and the West Bank physically linked, under current circumstances Israel would have placed a tank and a platoon of soldiers at each end of the road and severed it.- Published 5/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Designed to force us out
an interview with Samir Abdullah
bitterlemons: Is there a real separation happening between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank?
Abdullah: Yes. And it is harsher than ever. Now there is no trade between the West Bank and Gaza. If you have a small shipment you have to work for a week to obtain permission. If you wish to get a visa from an embassy located in Gaza you have to wait three days to wait for DHL or Aramex. If you are lucky you will get a visa in another three or four days.
Israel has not implemented the Agreement on Movement and Access, and for example, the Karni crossing only handles between 10 to 12 trucks a day. The capacity, the need, is 400 trucks a day, and that was stipulated in the AMA.
bitterlemons: Is this an intentional policy?
Abdullah: Oh yes. It is intended to impoverish Palestinians in order to weaken us. It makes it difficult for Palestinians to live here, it worsens the investment climate, and with no investment, no jobs are created. People are left with little choice but to seek their fortune outside Palestine.
This is the ultimate goal. The end for Israel is to deal with what they call the "demographic threat", and all Israel's policies and daily practices are designed with that in mind.
bitterlemons: What is the scale of the problem?
Abdullah: According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, unemployment is around 28 percent, and higher in Gaza. The poverty rate shows that two-thirds of the population lives under the poverty line. It is a disastrous situation and it is getting worse every day.
There is a major breakdown in all aspect of Palestinian lives, whether we talk about law and order, crime rates or other standards of behavior.
bitterlemons: How is this separation seen in Gaza as opposed to the West Bank?
Abdullah: Gaza is mainly a labor reservoir. There are limited resources and Gazans are very much dependent on Israel and on trade and aid. Jobs there are mainly created by the Palestinian Authority, but these jobs are no longer well paid and there is no regular payment.
People are waiting. There is a state of suspension. People are losing hope every day and nothing is happening. Now we are waiting for the government to be established and for it to arrange for regular payments to civil sector employees and maybe start some development work.
If this does not materialize, the crisis will continue to grow until it explodes.
bitterlemons: What is a possible Palestinian response to this situation?
Abdullah: We are starting to put our house in order. The Mecca agreement is a good start. Hopefully it will be implemented quicker than planned, because a slow implementation only creates frustration. We need to have a national unity government with a program that can mobilize support of all kinds, not only economic, but also political, to move forward on the political front.
There has to be pressure on Israel to stop its actions and comply with agreements it has signed with the PLO. We have to look for a new mechanism to resolve the conflict once and for all. There is no alternative for us other than to push Israel to final status negotiations and come up with an agreement based on UN Security Council resolutions and international law.
The world, by the way, is fed up with this conflict and there is a consensus that there should be a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace with Israel.
bitterlemons: And yet, the world seems reluctant to accept this unity government.
Abdullah: The unity government should have a program that is in harmony with Arab and international legitimacy, which would mean there is no reason for Europe or any other country to continue boycotting the government.
But we can't accept the Quartet conditions, which simply state the Israeli position. The international community, before it asks our government to explicitly recognize Israel, should ask Israel to recognize agreements it has signed. Conditions should be mutual. But there is no pressure on Israel, despite the fact that it is Israel that breached agreements and ended the peace process.
bitterlemons: If this unity government fails to convince the world and this separation of Gaza and the West Bank continues, what do you foresee?
Abdullah: I see an outbreak of a new wave of military actions and reactions and a new cycle of violence that will not benefit any party and is in the interest of neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian people.- Published 5/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Samir Abdullah is a Ramallah-based economist and the director of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, MAS.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
It's all because of Israel's weakness
by Yisrael Harel
The Palestinians argue that Israel is taking the deliberate and premeditated step of separating Judea and Samaria from the Gaza Strip. They list a number of primary reasons for this determination.
Hamas, which rejects Israel's existence, has absolute majority support in Gaza. In Judea and Samaria, on the other hand, Fateh, which is ostensibly committed to the Oslo agreements, holds the reins. According to this logic, Israel is helping Fateh establish its rule because the latter, in order not to lose power at least in Judea and Samaria, will not press at this stage (an obvious Israeli interest) to link up the two parts of the designated Palestinian state. In just a little while--Israel is alleged to be plotting--everyone will become accustomed to this new status quo, by which time it will be too late to unite Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Thus will Israel also evade its commitment to open a passage between Gaza and Judea/Samaria.
Yet another Arab allegation is that in Judea and Samaria Israel has allowed itself almost total freedom of military maneuver, whereas any military entry into Gaza is operationally problematic and politically complicated.
Paradoxically, because all these accusations make perfect sense, and because a government dedicated to serving the interests of the public that elected it would follow precisely this policy, Israel is impelled to act otherwise. After all, for some time now, particularly with regard to policy regarding the Palestinians, Israel has not behaved in accordance with orderly and calculated policies that give primacy to the interests of its citizenry. After all, had there been governments in Jerusalem that assessed the situation in an orderly fashion, planned intelligently and then executed their plans, the devastating Oslo agreements would not have been launched; the panicky flight from Lebanon would not have taken place in May 2000; the war against terror, catalyzed by that flight, would not have lasted seven years and counting; and Jews would not have been expelled from the Qatif Bloc in Gaza.
Moreover, once Jews were expelled from Qatif and the Palestinians nevertheless continued to launch Qassam rockets at Sderot and the western Negev, Israel would have used the means at its disposal to overcome this form of terrorism. Nor would the government have acquiesced in the massive smuggling of weaponry into the Strip under cover of a "ceasefire" that Hamas requested primarily in order to rebuild its forces and arm itself to the teeth. Above and beyond everything else, Israel would not have deluded itself that the primary danger to the Zionist state's existence is the Iranian bomb and that consequently it can degrade its conventional army. As a by-product of these delusions, Israel both suffered a painful defeat in the second Lebanon war and, as we have seen, failed to win the war at home against terrorism.
Israel's inability to take steps that are important to its real national interests also influenced the timing, though not the substance, of the most dramatic development it has witnessed in recent times: the advent of the "vision" document composed by the elected leaders of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. This paper, which constitutes a sort of declaration of divorce on the part of the Arabs in Israel from the Jewish state, does not surprise those who knew all along, but especially since the revolt of the Israeli Palestinians against the state in October 2000, that it was just a matter of time until the rupture surfaced. Undoubtedly, though, the timing of the divorce was linked to Israel's inability to win the long war on terror and particularly to its unbelievable--in Arab eyes as well--failure to inflict a resounding defeat on Hizballah.
Hence it can be argued that Israel's weakness has enabled not only more and more terrorism against it but also the chaos and short civil war within the Palestinian Authority. A strong and determined Israel, acting in accordance with its existential interests, would long ago have put an end to Palestinian terrorism, i.e., to the very existence of terrorist organizations capable of hurting it. In so doing it would have prevented the internal fighting within the PA and the rise to power of elements that oppose the very existence of a Jewish entity in the Middle East.
Let's be honest with ourselves: since Israel failed in this struggle, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are correctly seen as the primary parties responsible for Israel's failure to overcome the "Palestinian resistance", have reached positions of influence and a capacity to sabotage, at least in the near term, any possibility of a settlement between Palestinian Arabs and Jews in this part of the world.
Even the Mecca agreement, which has not yet been implemented only because of conflicts of interest within the PA, is a product of Israeli weakness. Practically speaking, Mecca constitutes a retreat by the so-called moderates from their recognition of Israel. Hence it memorializes on paper Hamas' victory on the battlefield. This time the victory is over a faction of Fateh. Had Israel acted in accordance with its interests it would from the start not have enabled Hamas to reach a position where it could defeat Fateh or attain genuine military capabilities.
To summarize and return to the subject at hand: it is indeed in Israel's interest that Gaza be separated from Judea and Samaria, and that Gaza be linked to Egypt and not to Judea and Samaria by means of a corridor crossing Israeli territory. Gaza would be Egypt's headache; Cairo would have to deal with political, economic, religious and military developments in the Strip. Meanwhile, in areas A and B of Judea and Samaria, Israel could maintain its military rule as long as terrorism continues.
And on the day it ends, there could emerge Palestinian self-rule linked to Jordan--whether Jordan remains an absolute monarchy or becomes a constitutional monarchy. In the second eventuality, which according to Israel's Central Command commander is apparently what will happen in the not too distant future, the Palestinian majority will rule Jordan and Israel will allow it to attach areas A and B to a single Jordanian Palestinian state. Then, perhaps, peace will reign and Jews and Palestinian Arabs will live side-by-side in sovereign countries.- Published 5/3/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He is former head of the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and former editor of its monthly Nekuda.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.