Gaza, Not West Bank, Is Key Factor in Palestinian Future, Says IDF General
Israel should abandon the traditional concept of the two-state solution and instead work to establish a Palestinian state in an expanded Gaza Strip, a retired Israeli general told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
Speaking from Washington DC where he is on a trip with the organization Our Soldiers Speak to promote the idea, Major General (Res.) Gershon Hacohen, former commander of the IDF’s Northern Corps and currently a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, described his vision of a “new state solution” that would replace the widely accepted concept of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Hacohen’s solution would involve the removal of the Hamas government in Gaza and the expansion of the Strip into northern Sinai. This would then become a demilitarized Palestinian state that would be helped to expand economically. As a description of the plan puts it:
With a shoreline no less inviting than that of Tel-Aviv, the New State would boast rich opportunity for trade, commerce, tourism, hotels, resorts, casinos (on or off-shore), import, export, and both an open, commercial airport and an open commercial seaport. Both would be toward the westernmost section of the country. Favorable security coordination would be agreed between Israel, Egypt and the New State. Massive economic investment within the New State would come from all international parties who have pledged their commitment to resolving the conflict. Actors would include the United States, the EU, Great Britain, and both Israel and Egypt; at a minimum.
Hacohen sees this as a clear break with previous attempts at resolving the conflict on the basis of territorial compromise.
“All the approach towards the establishment of a Palestinian state was directed with taking Judea and Samaria as the main effort and the Gaza Strip as a secondary effort,” he said. “What we are trying to offer is exactly the opposite. To remove the center of gravity from Judea and Samaria to Gaza. Because anyhow there is in Gaza a de facto state with absolute sovereignty de facto. But the resources are very narrow, limited. And they have no potential for the future without expanding. Potential that’s waiting in the empty space of north Sinai. And if Menachem Begin would bring back all Sinai to the Egyptians, we could do that on our own initiation. To build a Palestinian riviera between Gaza and el-Arish.”
The idea is similar to one offered by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who reportedly proposed a comparable plan in 2014 to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rejected it.
Similarly, a report in December in Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm claimed that US President Donald Trump had also considered the idea.
In order to effect such a plan, Hacohen says, the first effort must be an intellectual one. “We must bring awareness of the problems of the old, known concept of the two-state solution,” he said. “This paradigm was just failing again and again, and we must conceptualize why. The mechanistic concept of dividing the narrow land … is really not working.”
The problem, he said, is first the potential security threat to Israel that a withdrawal from the West Bank would represent. Advocates of two states “couldn’t really promise the Israelis that Iranian Shia militias will not stand 15 kilometers from Tel Aviv. And who can really promise that the idea of a demilitarized state will really be kept? Who can really expect something like that? Nobody.”
At the same time, “The main problem for the Palestinian side” in the West Bank “is that it is not giving them conditions of a vital state with all sovereignty. Because who will control the air? The Israelis are demanding to control the air. Who will control the electromagnetic spectrum? Who will control the borders on the Jordan River? This is not a state. Theoretically this idea was a nice idea, and by bringing it to reality it collapsed again and again.”
Asked whether Egypt would be prepared to back such a plan again, Hacohen replied, “If it will be asked of [Egypt] from the Israelis and if it will be colored and presented as an Israeli interest, maybe they will not do that. It must not be presented as an Israeli interest. It is an international interest in order to help the miserable people in Gaza.
“Look at Gaza with the absolute withdrawal of the Israelis. Could they have better self-determination? But the quality of life is reduced more and more, day after day. Lack of work, lack of salaries, health; all the electricity, water, and food coming from Israel. And if you are just comparing the situation in Gaza to the situation in Judea and Samaria, actually we have two models, one of presenting absolute withdrawal of the Israelis and the other presenting daily coexistence and friction between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. What is better regarding the interests of the private Palestinian? Everyone that really cares about human rights must ask what is better.”
The most important question, of course, is whether the Palestinians would agree to such an idea, especially given the seeming intransigence of their current leadership.
“First of all,” Hacohen stated, “the Palestinians from the beginning of their struggle didn’t really aspire to build a state. They aspired to destroy the possibility of a Jewish state. … And if the Palestinians really wanted a state, they could do that in another place, but they are always insisting on everything or nothing. Not something in between. So if they will accept, it’s not really what matters. What I believe is that we can create new trends. That even if they will never leave their vision to destroy Israel, in practical reality they will go with the new opportunities. … So we can create new engines, new economic engines.”
The Algemeiner also asked Hacohen for his analysis of the recent Iranian drone infiltration into Israel and the resulting Israeli airstrikes in Syria.
“I think that without friction we cannot learn the potential of new trends,” he said. “And the friction that happened last Saturday was important in order to understand that something wrong is going to be established in Syria. The Israeli interests are clear. We don’t want a new front of terrorists or Shia militias, it doesn’t matter Hezbollah or Afghan, Iranian militia in our border. And this is an Israeli interest.”
Asked whether Israel is pursuing the correct policy in response to this, Hacohen answered, “Even if not, it creates a situation that nobody can ignore the demands of the Israelis and Israel’s interest [when they seek] to establish a new order, if it will be possible, in Syria. It means that the United States and Russia and Iran and Turkey and the Syrians will not come to an agreement without considering the Israeli interest.”
Hacohen has been described by the Times of Israel as “One of the most important emerging voices on the Israeli right and one of the most interesting figures to come out of the army in recent years.”
The son of a religious family, he maintains his faith but does not follow a religious way of life. Although personally appalled, he nonetheless oversaw the 2005 disengagement from Gaza that resulted in the expulsion of 8,000 Jewish settlers.
“The act,” he told the Times, “was improper. Anyone who knew me knew I felt this way. I couldn’t say it publicly. But everyone knew.” Nonetheless, he said, “a God-fearing man does not receive an instruction manual, as with a washing machine. He faces a dilemma.”