Maintain the principle of unity

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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.

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