Should Gaza Be the Palestinian State?
Proponents of a two-state solution foresee a future Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip. In the Oslo Accords, Israel agreed to withdraw from Gaza first, with the expectation that if the Palestinians adhered to the deal, they would eventually gain independence in the West Bank as well. But the Palestinians chose terror over peace, and now neither side has much interest in the compromises necessary to create a Palestinian state. Hence, it may be time for a more radical approach in which Gaza is recognized as the Palestinian state, but with no plan for it to be extended to the West Bank.
How could this possibly make sense for Israel, given that Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, and has bombarded Israel with thousands of rockets since the disengagement that removed every Israeli soldier and civilian from the Strip?
From a public relations, humanitarian, moral, and political standpoint, Israel has been pilloried since the disengagement because of its blockade, the “disproportionate” military response to provocations from terrorists, and the misperception that Gaza remains occupied.
Israel has shown it can withstand the criticism, though it pays a price diplomatically and in terms of its public image.
But what if Israel announced that it was prepared to recognize Gaza as the Palestinian state?
Recognizing Gaza as a state would be an acceptance of reality. Hamas is unlikely to disappear or be defeated in the foreseeable future, so Israel will have to live with Hamas in power. Since Hamas controls the entire territory, it already resembles a state.
Before Israel makes such a concession, all violence would have to cease and all Israeli hostages returned. More importantly, the Palestinians would have to understand this will not be a replay of the “Gaza first” approach of Oslo; this would be Gaza first, last, and only. Israel can argue that the Palestinians now have a state, and they are not entitled to a second one in the West Bank.
What about the threat that Hamas would pose to Israel as the authority in Gaza?
That threat should be no greater than it is today. There is no reason to expect Hamas to abandon its raison d’etre of turning the area from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River into an Islamic state (just as Fatah would not give up the same vision if a state were created in the West Bank), but Israel will be no more willing to allow Hamas to accomplish its objective if it runs a state than it is today.
A Palestinian state in Gaza is far less dangerous than one in the West Bank, with Israel’s capital, airport, and heartland in its crosshairs. Israel could still control the mutual border as well as threats and smuggling from the sea. Egypt would continue to lock down its border with Gaza to ensure that it is not threatened by radical Islamists. Israel would also retain the right to respond to any provocations, just as any other state would react if a neighboring state threatened its security. The international blockade should also be maintained, so long as Hamas refuses to meet the conditions of ceasing terror, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and abiding by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Gazans may be less inclined to support violence if their conditions improve. This will only happen if they receive international aid, which would have to be directed to specific projects with safeguards to prevent money from being diverted to Hamas for nefarious purposes. Israeli officials have already shown flexibility with the idea of creating an artificial island off the coast of Gaza, thus giving Palestinians a “humanitarian, economic and transportation gateway to the world without endangering Israel’s security.”
Palestinians would be free to move to their new state. This would be a test of their true desire for independence, as they would have to live in the already densely populated Strip with limited resources and employment opportunities. They would also have to accept the rule of religious fanatics who in turn would have to accept more Palestinian citizens.
And what happens to the West Bank?
Palestinians in the West Bank who cling to the fantasy of establishing a state with Jerusalem as its capital as the first step toward the liberation of all of Palestine will be upset. The Palestinian Authority desperately wants to regain control over Gaza, which would be better for Israel, but it lacks the power to do so. Reconciliation with Hamas has failed, in large part because Mahmoud Abbas fears that Islamists will take over the West Bank.
West Bankers might conclude that violence pays off, and rekindle the intifada in the mistaken belief that Israel would then cave in to their demands. They might come to a different conclusion, however, and recognize that their unwillingness to accept Israeli peace offers has left them in the cold and come to the negotiating table. And the longer these Palestinians hold out for their unattainable, maximalist demands, the more Jews will move to Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinians missed a chance to reach an agreement in 1979, when only about 10,000 Jews lived in the territories. Soon there will be 500,000. They could have stopped the influx of Jews any time had they agreed to peace. To the extent that settlements are a problem, it is one of their own making.
It is still theoretically possible to create a contiguous Palestinian entity in the West Bank, but that would require the evacuation of a minimum of 40,000 Israelis. Given the upheaval and difficulty caused by the removal of 9,000 from Gaza, the likelihood of such a mass evacuation is remote.
The status quo will prevail unless and until the Palestinians negotiate an agreement that might lead to linking the West Bank with the state in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority leadership, however, has pinned its hopes on the international community forcing Israel to capitulate to their demands, something that will never happen so long as Israel remains independent — and partly so long as the United States stands in the way.
Recognizing Gaza as the Palestinian state is no panacea. The international community and Arab states will not be mollified, but that is too bad. They will no longer be able to say that the Palestinians do not have a state. Let the EU and other critics focus on trying to turn Gaza into a functioning, economically viable, and peaceful state. That is the true one-state solution.
Mitchell Bard, Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library, has written 24 books including: The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews, and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.