I recently wrote about the right-wing plans being floated for a one-state solution. In truth, of course, the idea really encompassed two states, with Israel encompassing what is now that state and also including the West Bank, and Gaza being a Palestinian state.
Now, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is advancing the idea from the other direction. Lieberman wants Israel to finish disengaging from Gaza, renouncing all responsibility for the Strip and allowing it its freedom while cutting it off from Israel completely.
Lieberman’s plan has not met with approving ears by the international community, nor by the Palestinians, and the Netanyahu government has thus far ignored it. But it seems very likely that it, in some form, will, at some future point, connect with the notion of annexing the West Bank and become the new right-wing alternative to the traditional two-state solution.
Lieberman’s notion and the annexationist stance should not be taken lightly. True, the ideas have little support outside of far-right circles at this point; but they have the kind of appeal that is likely to spread to the center-right and center of Israeli politics. It has the potential, in the long term, to seduce many who today are in the Kadima or Labor parties.
Lieberman’s plan, not surprisingly, has met with sharp denunciations from both Fatah and Hamas. Still, if the plan were ever realized, Hamas would certainly take the opportunity to further consolidate their rule in Gaza and begin to develop the Strip again. Indeed, such a plan would end up benefiting Hamas more than any other party.
The annexationists’ plans all have one thing in common, and that is that separating the West Bank from Gaza happens right away while bringing the West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians into Israeli citizenship is a lengthy process. The lengths vary, and official citizenship in some cases happens rather quickly, but in any scenario, there would be a Gaza Strip that would be cut off from both Israel and the West Bank for an extended period while whatever integration process Israel undertakes goes forward.
So, let’s play that out. Gaza is completely sealed off from Israel and whatever outside support it is getting comes in by sea or through Egypt. It struggles, but its standard of living is rising, slowly but steadily, Hamas is in firm control and can boast that it has succeeded where all others have failed in creating Palestinian independence for the first time.
Meanwhile, on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, Palestinians are in turmoil, with many opposing being absorbed into Israel, others protesting the escalation of building in settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Arching over all of this is the disgrace of Fatah and the PA, which will have been completely undermined by Hamas’ success.
This is really the effect a complete disconnect from Gaza will have. Hamas will have won some sort of independence, and it won’t be provisional, as it was in the initial Gaza disengagement. What message will Israel have sent the Palestinians? It will be, unambiguously, that Hamas’ militancy, its refusal to abandon violence, and to some extent, its Islamist ideology as opposed to the PLO’s secular one, is the path to Palestinian independence.
How could those of us who support diplomacy and non-violence argue against the facts? The PLO/PA had gotten nowhere in nearly five decades of efforts and nearly two decades of trying to work with Israel instead of relying on terrorism. Hamas, which came into being in the mid-80s, and really only pursued a real political strategy in the 21st century, had won independence.
Geoffrey Aronson of the Foundation for Middle East Peace believes the cutting off of Gaza can lead to an end of occupation in the West Bank. I beg to differ. I believe the goal of Lieberman’s proposal—aside from the obvious benefits to Israel of not having to provide anything to Gaza and not having to deal with the diplomatic fallout from policing the blockade—is to permanently undermine the PA, just as part of the agenda of the annexationists is to permanently split the Palestinians and undermine their nationalism by absorbing a big chunk of their populace into Israel.
Undermining the PA is not only the goal of Lieberman’s plan; it is the inevitable outcome of it. It might seem ironic that right-wing Israeli leaders would pursue a plan that strengthens Hamas, but really, it makes perfect sense. They prefer a Palestinian counterpart that is feared and disdained by secular Arabs, other Arab leaders, Europe and the United States and, most importantly, almost all Israelis.
The United States cannot afford to let this idea gain momentum. As the ideas of cutting off Gaza and annexing the West Bank gain momentum in Israel, they will also gain followers in the American Jewish leadership, the Christian Zionist communities and, right along with them, in Congress.
The United States needs to make it clear that Israel continues to have responsibilities for Gaza, the result of not only its continuing control over the sea, air and most of the borders of the Strip, but also because of nearly four decades of occupation where Gaza was not developed. The argument can be extended to Egypt, which has collaborated with Israel in its ongoing siege, and also did just as bad a job with the Strip when it controlled it from 1949-1967. The effects of that neglect continued to be felt throughout the years of Israeli occupation, so Israel does not have to foot this bill alone. But it does hold the largest part of the debt.
The very fact that this idea is being floated (and is being echoed by some all-too-prominent Israeli commentators) gives Hamas a big propaganda boost. To a Palestinian who may hold no ideological allegiance to either Hamas or Fatah (and that’s the bulk of the population), the very proposal once again demonstrates that Hamas gets some sort of results, while Fatah and the Fayyad government diddle about with proximity talks, and the Big Decision about whether to move to direct talks, and with state-building plans that sound nice but have yet to show results in terms of improvement of conditions for most Palestinians of the West Bank.
It may seem premature to take on an argument which, at this stage, is just the talk of a few extremists. But this is a deadly idea, which has great potential to become explosive in very short order. Taking it on now should be on the agenda of peace groups in the US and Israel (particularly Jewish ones), as well as the Obama Administration. If they don’t, the two-state solution may turn into a nightmare.