Just a few short months ago I was actively advocating, in these virtual pages and elsewhere, that the international community adopt the construction of a secure transportation link between Gaza and the West Bank as its flagship project. Though it would take years to complete a sunken road with rail link and pipelines across the 42 km. separating the two Palestinian land masses, a decision now to adopt and finance the project would serve as concrete reassurance that a viable two-state solution is feasible and enjoys broad-based international support. Israel, I reasoned, could hardly object to a project based on its Oslo recognition that Gaza and the West Bank are a single territorial entity. Security issues could be postponed until near completion of the road, when Israel would in any case have a veto over the opening of any transportation infrastructure across its territory that endangered it.
Now, following the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January 25, there is no longer a logical basis for that advocacy. Hamas, after all, does not support Oslo, a two-state solution or even negotiations with Israel, and declares that it will uphold only those Palestinian agreements with Israel that it finds favorable to its interests. Indeed, because of Israeli security concerns we are almost certainly moving into a period of near total severance of links between Gaza and the West Bank. Yet we must do everything possible to make that severance temporary and to maintain the principle of unity, because the alternative is too dangerous to contemplate.
Undoubtedly, a two-state solution based on a Palestinian state in Gaza and more than 90 percent of the West Bank is a highly imperfect arrangement. Fragmented states have not always fared well in history. But the proximity of Gaza to the West Bank and the engineering feasibility of constructing a land bridge would appear to offer the hope that a united Palestine would not suffer the fate of Pakistan/Bangladesh a few decades ago. Of course, there are plenty of additional fault lines in the proposed Palestinian state: territorial (settlement spread), demographic (refugee absorption), historical/ideological (foregoing the right of return), religious (the disposition of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif), etc. But no one has come up with a better plan for some measure of long-term regional stability--one that offers Palestinians at least a partial answer to their national and historic needs while maintaining Israel as a Jewish, democratic and secure state.
Israel and, to judge by last week's Jericho drama, increasingly the international community as well, are taking their distance and "keeping their powder dry" until we know what Palestine under Hamas will be like and whether Hamas is prepared to adapt to the diplomatic and ideological demands of a sincere two-state process. Already, Hamas' new Cabinet is doomed to meet only by video-conference link between Gaza and the West Bank, due to travel restrictions imposed by Israel in response to Hamas' positions. If and when it emerges that Hamas is sticking to its Islamist ideological guns, and assuming it acts to cement its grip on Palestinian society, then a two-state solution based on a united Gaza and West Bank will become increasingly unlikely, and some parties in Israel will feel encouraged to attempt to separate the two permanently. This would not be good for Palestinians or Israelis: extremism and poverty in both areas will almost certainly increase the more separate the areas are.
Some advocates of Gaza-West Bank separation propose inviting Egypt to reestablish a degree of political control over Gaza, and Jordan to follow suit in the West Bank. Some even dare to presume that American and other pressure will persuade Egypt to enlarge the Gaza Strip at its own territorial expense, thereby somehow "solving" Gaza's heavy socio-economic problems. Of course, no one bothers to ask Cairo and Amman directly if they are willing to return to the status quo ante-1967 and re-shoulder the economic and demographic burdens of occupying part of Palestine, or to cede territory to a Palestinian state in Gaza.
The answer from Cairo and Amman is, to the best of my understanding, a resounding "no". Gaza-West Bank unity or separation is our problem: Israelis and Palestinians.- Published 20/3/2006 © 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
Destroying the two-state solution
by Ghassan Khatib
The Oslo agreement was explicit in emphasizing the need to maintain the geographic integrity of the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly to create a geo-political link between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Geographic integrity is a necessary condition for the creation of a viable state, making this link of the highest priority. Without geographic integrity of the West Bank and Gaza, a viable state, one of two ultimate objectives of the peace process, the other being security, becomes untenable.
However, one major characteristic of Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory has aimed at exactly the opposite and is disintegrating territorial contiguity, not only between the West Bank and Gaza but also within the West Bank. This disintegration has been achieved by Israel's separation wall, the continued building and expansion of settlements and the restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
Fears among Palestinians that a total separation of Gaza from the West Bank is in the cards increased after the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. The reason the Palestinian side insisted on not opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt even after the Israeli withdrawal, except under an agreement with Israel, was because the Palestinian side wanted to maintain and ensure the application of the same customs regulations in both the West Bank and Gaza in order to maintain economic unity of the Palestinian territory.
These fears were only heightened after comments by Israeli politicians that the Gaza crossings to and through Israel might be converted into international borders. Now, after the victory of Hamas in parliamentary elections, Israel is increasingly speaking of further separation of the West Bank from Gaza.
Hamas' victory, combined with Israeli sanctions including preventing elected Hamas Legislative Council members from moving between the West Bank and Gaza, will create an awkward geo-political situation whereby future officials of the Palestinian Authority can easily travel through Rafah from Gaza to Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, etc., but will not be able to move from one part of their country to another.
The disintegration also has detrimental economic consequences. According to recent World Bank predictions, it will increase the percentage of people under the poverty line to a staggering 70 percent, with unemployment at over 30 percent.
Gaza is not economically viable on its own. The West Bank will lack strategic access to the Mediterranean without Gaza. In fact, this separation could well mean the end of the possibility of a viable independent Palestinian state ever emerging.
Such a development, with its political and economic consequences, will maintain the conflict and increase hostility and violence. It will put further obstacles in the way of the peace that is still aspired to by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, it will be contrary to the wishes of the international community that has spent not less than seven billion dollars to build institutions that lay the foundations and backbone of a future Palestinian state, in the knowledge that this is a prerequisite for peace.- Published 20/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and acting minister of health, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
For the time being, separation
by Amnon Lord
In presenting the option of political or de facto separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as two entities, Professor Yehoshua Ben Arieh has stated what I consider to be a basic truth: "No matter what political agreements you have reached to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nothing would be achieved if you haven't solved the humanitarian, social and economic problem of Gaza."
My basic assumption is that the separation between Gaza and the West Bank is now a fact of life, mainly because of the security problems that Israel faces in the aftermath of the latest political and strategic developments in the region. Right now, in front of our very eyes, the Gaza Strip is being transformed into a major base for international and anti-Israel terrorism. Turning our view to the next couple of years, we can see the gathering storm of yet another war spreading from Iran to the borders of Israel.
Under these circumstances, any Israeli government will be forced to prevent a connection between Gaza and the West Bank that would amount to a possible terrorist encirclement of Israel's major population centers.
Bearing this in mind, we must look beyond that period toward a future in which the problem of the Gaza population can be addressed in the most reasonable and hopeful way. If everybody agrees that Gaza presents special problems, we are left with two directions to defuse that human time-bomb.
One is to direct the constant pressure inward, into Israel. The borders can be opened, and every person in Gaza will be free to participate in the Israeli labor market. This was the de facto reality between 1967 and 1993, and for about 15 years between the mid-1970s and 1990 Israelis and Palestinians had the best of it.
Since the Oslo accords, with the threat of terrorism having grown to strategic proportions, this option is foreclosed. Now it seems that the logical direction for independent Palestinian development is in the opposite direction: west and south into northern Sinai. The main plan that deals with the problem of Gaza is that of Ben Arieh. Here a reservation is in order: his plan was meant to be part of a general and final status solution, whereas what is presented here relates to Gaza only, because of the aforementioned regional obstacles.
Once allowed by the Egyptians to develop and enlarge the Gaza Strip into Sinai, the Palestinians will get the opportunity to solve a lot of their real social problems. There is no need here to detail all the agricultural and economic possibilities, with the construction of an international airport and deep water port and perhaps one or two new towns.
Almost every person who is exposed to the idea of Gaza-El Arish thinks it's too reasonable to be acceptable. Hence, alongside the idea of separation and development westward, we must also look at the alternative, which is actually what the international community is driving at: Gaza clear of Jews, enclosed in its current fences, and connected to another territorial pocket, the West Bank, east of Israel's 1967 border. The connection would be some kind of a corridor: a surface or sunken highway or an underground tunnel. This is practical and easy to achieve, but short on substantial answers to real human problems.
The West Bank pocket will be blocked from the west by the security barrier, and for years will be blocked from the east by Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. From an Israeli point of view it is clear that what seems like a neat arrangement will only be the starting point of a new phase in the old revisionist plan to annihilate Israel by a combination of political and terrorist warfare.
If we take the same line of thinking that I suggest for Gaza and apply it to the West Bank, both security and economic considerations suggest that Israel should remain where it is now. It has good control over the areas in Judea and Samaria that are potential terrorist bases. In view of possible escalation on the northern border, Israel cannot allow for a new front to develop at its soft belly in the center. What many consider to be a cure for Israel's political problems in the international arena--unilateral withdrawal from 90 percent of the West Bank--I see as the potential for a major deterioration, just as it is now with regard to Gaza. Evacuation of the West Bank will create something like Cuba vis-a-vis the United States. But instead of being 80 miles from the shore, it will be a terrorist Maryland controlled by Iran next to a Washington, DC.
Thus for the time being, both Israeli and Palestinian interests require that the main economic and political efforts be directed toward the Gaza-El Arish project, and that the West Bank issue be left on hold for a future negotiated solution, but only after we overcome the Hamas-Iran impass.- Published 20/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Amnon Lord is the editor of the weekly newspaper Makor Rishon. He has published three books: a short novel, a personal essay on the Israeli left, and a collection of essays from the intifada, "War at home".
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
an interview with Raji Sourani
bitterlemons: There is an almost complete physical separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank at the moment. What are the consequences of this split?
Sourani: You are really talking about two people. We are totally disconnected, humanly, politically, socially, economically and otherwise. This is unprecedented. Even in the darkest days of the occupation this situation never obtained. And it's deepening more and more every day.
bitterlemons: Are these two communities then growing apart?
Sourani: Families are disconnected, Gaza students no longer go to West Bank universities and vice versa, intermarriages are no longer happening. It's a very strange relationship.
bitterlemons: How big an obstacle does this pose to the possible formation of a Palestinian state?
Sourani: I think it makes it mission impossible. To be disconnected physically makes a state impossible. This is what Israel is aiming for. Israel is deepening the separation exactly to make the creation of a Palestinian state impossible.
bitterlemons: There have been suggestions that Israel is seeking to leave Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan. Do you think this is what is happening?
Sourani: No, I think it's much worse. Gaza is disconnected. Israel unilaterally redeployed from Gaza but still exercises 100 percent control over the Strip, over air, sea, and land. It's business as usual.
I think the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing is indicative of this strategy. Israel is starting a new chapter with this. From Kerem Shalom Israel will exercise full economic control over Gaza. Kerem Shalom is inside Israel and Israeli laws will apply there. Any imports and exports to and from Gaza will have to go through there.
In the West Bank, the situation is completely different. Jerusalem is de facto annexed and being ethnically cleansed. There is a real process of social and economic provocation against the Palestinian people inside Jerusalem and the Judaisation of the city is proceeding apace. The settlements are expanding daily and Jerusalem is almost ruled out from becoming part of any Palestinian state in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the wall has de facto annexed nearly 60 percent of the West Bank and what is left are pieces and bantustans, creating a situation where Palestinian life, let alone a state, is impossible. Any Jordanian control over the West Bank will certainly not come to look like the pre-1967 situation.
bitterlemons: Are you saying that Israel is quite consciously pre-empting the possibility of the emergence of a Palestinian state?
Sourani: This is clear from the unilateral disengagement plan, which leaves Israel to decide on the fate of the Palestinian people and land.
Israel never believed in a Palestinian state. I think a long time ago, Israel decided it had no Palestinian partner, and even when President Yasser Arafat passed away and Abu Mazen was elected democratically, Israel never recognized him as a partner.
They implemented the disengagement from Gaza without any Palestinian partner. Hamas [after winning Palestinian elections] is an excellent excuse, one more excuse, for Israel to continue its unilateralism.
I must also remind you that though the unilateral plan is three years old, Ehud Olmert came up with the policy long ago. Sharon only adopted it. Olmert will continue this line. This fits with the policy goal of a long-term interim solution, which, as Dov Wesiglass said, will simply disrupt any Palestinian development and make a Palestinian state impossible in the long run.
These two policies, unilateralism and the aim of a prolonged interim solution, are derailing any discussion over the real issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, namely Jerusalem, the wall, the settlements and the right of the Palestinian people to be rid of this belligerent occupation.
bitterlemons: On the Palestinian side, is this division of Palestinian territory making it hard for any cogent, coherent policy to emerge.
Sourani: I think you can direct suicide bombers through e-mail, fax and mobile telephones, but I don't think you can create and run any political movement.
bitterlemons: What can Palestinians do?
Sourani: We are in a time of crisis. I have no recipe for this. But even in prison, nobody can stop Palestinians from thinking of their fate and pining for their freedom. It's very hard when the world, especially Europe, buys into this conspiracy of silence, and abides by the rule of the jungle and not the rule of law.- Published 20/3/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Raji Sourani is director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights based in Gaza City.
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