by Malcolm Lowe/
Gibraltar, Monaco, and Hong Kong are all, like Gaza, small heavily populated areas with a coastline, and all are thriving. The main obstacle to further dramatic growth is Gaza’s bad habit of shooting missiles at Israel.
The future is already here, but people refuse to see it. Why? Because the world’s politicians and journalists froze their minds decades ago about how to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Every speech by Western leaders, and every pontification by a Thomas Friedman, has as its nucleus what I called – already back in 2003 – the “Dogmatic Chant.”
It runs as follows: “The Palestinians must end terrorism, the Israelis must totally freeze settlement activities, then there can quickly arise a Palestinian state whose borders will approximate the 1967 lines and the Middle East will know peace at last!” Read any of those speeches and pontifications and you will find that its total thought content boils down to just this, apart from the frills.
It is a dogma, because it is impervious to any new facts, and a chant, because so many authoritative politicians and journalists chant it together. Its greatest flaw is that it pretends that the biggest issue of all – the Palestinian demand for the so-called “right of return” – is inessential.
Thus the PA itself maintains refugee camps where PA leaders routinely assure the residents that there will be no peace with Israel until they all go away to where their great-grandparents lived before 1948. Never mind that those little lost villages in Israel would have to be expanded ten times to accommodate them all.
We also have a second major flaw in the Dogmatic Chant: it ignores the advantages, indeed the necessity, for Gaza and the West Bank to be encouraged to seek independence separately. Let nobody pretend that Gaza cannot survive alone. Gibraltar, Monaco and Hong Hong Kong are all, like Gaza, small heavily populated areas with a coastline, and all are thriving. So is Luxemburg.
Even Gaza is not doing so badly: it has its Olympic-size swimming pool (2010), upmarket shopping mall (2010), beach resorts and luxury hotels. Just look at the pictures on Internet of “A Tourist Trip to Gaza.” The main obstacle to further dramatic growth is Gaza’s bad habit of shooting missiles at Israel.
Everyone who is anyone has declared for a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine. Including Netanyahu and Abbas. Everyone is aware that all attempts to reach that solution quickly collapse. And almost everyone argues that the only alternative would be a one-state solution.
Hardly anybody wants to know that three states have emerged, de facto, in the area: Israel, West Bank and Gaza. Or to acknowledge the advantages of this arrangement. Or to realize that only this – if anything – offers a basis for a stable future.
Let us begin by recalling what happened after Britain’s Indian Empire was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947. Originally, Pakistan consisted of two parts – West and East – divided by 1800 km (1100 m) of Indian territory. War quickly broke out between the two states. The occasion was the province of Kashmir and Jammu, which Pakistan demanded because of its Muslim majority. But its Hindu Maharajah ruler, who was given the choice in the partition agreement, opted to join India.
The war lasted from October 1947 to December 1948. Only a small part of Kashmir had then fallen into Pakistani hands. The dispute provoked another war in 1965 and threatened to go on forever. What changed the situation was the emergence of an independence movement in East Pakistan. In 1971 India helped East Pakistan to free itself from Pakistani military control and turn into the independent state of Bangladesh.
Since there is no particular friendship between Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Kashmir dispute thereafter posed a much smaller security threat to India. Thus when armed Pakistanis infiltrated a part of Kashmir in 1999, a vigorous response by the Indian army put a quick end to the affair.
In the meantime, all three countries play cricket against each other. So also does Sri Lanka, which had its own dispute with India over its Tamil minority. In the Middle East, for whatever reason, Britain’s historic role did not leave behind the civilizing influence of cricket — a sport in which all spectators constantly applaud fine plays by either side, including their opponents. But the other parallels with Israel and the Palestinians are evident.
The Oslo Declaration of Principles (1993) and the Oslo Interim Agreement (1995) took note of the problem of maintaining contact between the two geographical areas of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Declaration envisaged “safe passage” between them on designated routes through the territory of the State of Israel. Annex I of the Agreement contained an elaborate scheme of implementation: each vehicle must have a “safe passage permit” and each Palestinian passenger must have a “safe passage card”; joint Israeli-Palestinian teams would make sure that only acceptable persons could use “safe passage” and that all who left the one area duly arrived at the other; the precise structure of the terminals and their opening hours were defined, etc.
All this quickly came to nothing. This was among the first provisions, and arguably the very first provision, of the Oslo Accords to collapse in practice. Ever since, Palestinians have had to pass through at least two Arab countries, obtaining all the necessary permits, to get from the one area to the other. As Aaron Tuckey recently noted (March 13, 2012): while there are several states with an exclave (like the US’s Alaska), communication between Gaza and the West Bank is unusually problematic.
Later proposals included a dedicated fenced highway, a railway, even a tunnel. The problem, of course, was how to enable communication between the two areas without creating opportunities for Palestinian terrorism. That problem has only grown since. Letting the two areas go their own separate ways would greatly reduce the threat to Israel’s security in any future Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
In the meantime, the incommunicability between Gaza and the West Bank has also become convenient to the Palestinians, at least to the two main players – Hamas and Fatah. After Hamas won the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), it briefly headed a coalition government with Fatah. In 2007 armed clashes between the two led to a Hamas dictatorship in Gaza and a Fatah dictatorship in the West Bank; the PLC has not met since that year. “Dictatorship” is the correct description: the terms of office of both the PLC and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, have long run out. The two areas are being ruled by unelected individuals via their respective security apparati.
Various agreements have been made between Hamas and Fatah to hold fresh elections and reunite the two areas, committees have been set up to implement the agreements, but it all gets nowhere. Hamas continues to detain and harass Fatah members and to punish pro-Fatah journalists, while Fatah does the reverse in the West Bank.
One of the committees is supposed to arrange the release of the mutual detainees. It has achieved nothing. Rather, there are constantly new detainees. It would be simpler to transfer all the pro-Fatah detainees and activists from Gaza to the West Bank in exchange for a transfer of Hamas people in the opposite direction.
Another committee, also getting nowhere, was charged with creating the apparatus for joint elections. It is still arguing about whether and how to update the register of voters. If they need a show of democracy, it would be simpler to elect separate governing councils in the two areas.
The Palestinian ministries, to the extent that they do any useful work, already operate separately in Gaza and the West Bank. After 2007, the Hamas and Fatah appointees to the coalition government morphed into the de facto governments in the respective areas.
The only remaining connection is that the Fatah government in Ramallah still pays salaries of its former officials in Gaza, regardless of whether they are now doing any work there. At the same time, the Fatah government claims that it is facing a desperate financial crisis. If Fatah ended those useless payments to Gaza, the crisis would be much relieved. Any shortfall in Gaza’s own budget would doubtless be made up by its Islamist friends elsewhere.
For Gaza to go its own way is the easier part. The West Bank and Israel are so much more closely intertwined that here the solution, too, must be complex.
So why has nobody seen all this before, if a permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank is so obviously the way to go? As a matter of fact, isolated commentators have thrown up this suggestion in the past. Since the beginning of 2012, their number has been growing. They have passed unnoticed for various reasons.
One reason is that the term “three-state solution” has been misused in the past in confusing ways. Another reason is that even those who used the term correctly often thought of it as merely a temporary stage, imagining that Gaza and the West Bank would eventually reunite. Thirdly, a few people did envisage this as a permanent reality, but there were weaknesses in how they made their case.
Here credit must be given to Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, an Iranian academic and long-term US resident. He may not be very popular, whether as an apologist for Iranian President Ahmadinejad or because of his unfortunate embroilment in controversies. Back in 2007, however, he wrote a prophetic short analysis entitled “The Death of the Two-State Solution.” There he argued: “Call it a nightmare, a fiasco, fragmentation, but not temporary, as all the vital signs indicate that the political partition of the West Bank and Gaza is a fait accompli, unlikely to reverse short of an all-out Israeli military invasion and reoccupation of Gaza.”
The first to speak of three states in this sense may have been Jamal Dajani. On June 15, 2007, while Hamas was consolidating its armed conquest of Gaza, he proclaimed on LinkTV: “The new reality on the ground is that we have three states on historic Palestine: a Hamas-run state in Gaza, a Fatah-run state in the West Bank and Israel in between.” Dajani was closely, but independently, followed by Charles Levinson on June 17 in the Daily Telegraph.
More recently (March 26, 2012), the practical reality of three states was briefly noted by Khaled Abu Toameh in Gatestone. Unlike Afrasiabi, however, he envisages it as a temporary phenomenon: “The three-state solution is, for now, the only, and best, option on the table. The two-state solution should be put on hold until the Palestinians reunite and start speaking in one voice. Meanwhile, those who are trying to promote a one-state solution are just wasting their time and the time of most Israelis and Palestinians.” Similar views appeared in 2010 in a blog on the Huffington Post by Chuck Freilich and a blog on CultureFuture by Guy Yedwab. But the earliest version of the “temporary” conception may be a brief opinion piece by Jacob Savage that appeared on the same day in 2007 (June 20) as Afrasiabi’s article.
Even more recently (June 27, 2012), the de facto status of Gaza as an independent state was noted by Giora Eiland, a reserve general who has variously served as security advisor to Israeli governments. In an op-ed for Ynet, he argued: “Israel’s policy must be premised on the understanding that Gaza is a de facto state in every way. It has clear geographical boundaries, a stable regime that was elected democratically, and an independent foreign policy.”
From that premise, however, Eiland drew only limited consequences. Mainly, he wants Israel to treat hostilities of any kind emanating from Gaza as the responsibility of the Hamas government there and of the citizenry that freely elected Hamas to power.
Back in 2008, Eiland propagated a different kind of three-state solution: Israel, Jordan and Egypt. (Wikipedia currently gives a wrong link to Eiland’s proposal, a link that has been widely copied on Internet; the correct link to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is here.) He wanted Jordan and Egypt to resume the responsibilities for the West Bank and Gaza that they had exercised prior to the Six Day War of 1967. His proposal was echoed in 2009 by John Bolton, A similar idea was recently floated (May 3, 2012) by Likud Knesset member Danny Doron. It is unthinkable, however, that either Jordan or Egypt would ever want such a headache, even if they did not have all their current problems.
Yet another “three-state solution” was recently proposed (March 5, 2012) by Mordechai Nisan: Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. The Palestinians, he thought, should be encouraged to migrate to Jordan and overthrow the Hashemite monarchy there. Then the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon could be evicted to Jordan as well. This would suit Israel very well, of course, but the Hashemite army would combat it with all possible means. As for Lebanon, all the factions want to evict the Palestinians, but only if they can be sent directly to Israel.
It is unfortunate and thoroughly confusing that such versions of wishful thinking have usurped the name “three-state solution.” So their authors have blinded both themselves and other to the arrival of three states in reality.
Eiland, in any case, now regards the independence of Gaza from the West Bank as a convenience for tactical purposes. But it is neither this nor the “nightmare or fiasco” suggested by Afrasiabi. Nor should it be regarded as a temporary phase, to be overcome sometime in the future.
Rather, the permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank is a necessary condition for both present stability and any future settlement of Israeli-Palestinian relations. So an “all-out Israeli military invasion and reoccupation of Gaza” would be very unwise, if it ended Gaza’s current independence.
To give further credit, there have been some commentators who perceived separate independence as a beneficent prospect, such as S.C. Denney in 2008, Colin P. Clarke in 2009 and Ori Z. Soltes (who drew attention to the parallel with Pakistan) in 2010. They proposed this, however, as a new basis for negotiations. But just as the Palestinians fail to negotiate unity, they will resolutely refuse to negotiate disunity. Forget about negotiations, in this regard. Rather, note the reality of three states and reinforce it until it becomes irresistible. Something like this was recommended by Bruce Bialosky in 2009.
In a 2009 blog on the Huffington Post, Cameron Sinclair listed some advantages of creating two Palestinian states instead of one. In particular, instead of receiving outside funds automatically, they would have to compete for them on grounds of excellence. Only his choice of the names for the two states, “East Palestine” and “West Palestine,” was unfortunate (yes, he placed Gaza in the East). Just “Gaza” and “Palestine” would do better, as proposed independently by Stephen I. Siller in 2011. Sinclair’s data also contained some inaccuracies. Three years on, nevertheless, his momentary bright idea is all the more justified.