The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has held for over a week. I congratulate Hamas and Israel for coming together, and Egypt, the United States, and other countries for helping make it happen. Lives will be saved, civilians will not be injured, and critical infrastructure will be preserved.
A cease-fire is only a beginning; it is transitional stage in relations between Israel and Hamas. The cease-fire must be extended into a permanent or a long-term (tens of years) agreement. The United States already indicated that that is the goal.
But a permanent agreement is probably impossible. First, because Israel is determined not to allow an economically viable, sovereign Palestinian state to emerge. Second, because Palestinians are not unified.
The time seems right for Palestinian unification with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority achieving big wins – Hamas stood up to Israel in the recent war and won an easing of the blockade, and the Palestinian Authority achieved “non-member observer status” in the United Nations by a strong majority of 139 to 9 with 41 abstentions. And there was a positive signal this week when Hamas and Islamic Jihad publicly backed the PLO bid to upgrade Palestinian status in the United Nations.
That said, two factors work against unification. First, the Palestinian Authority victory at the United Nations will be diminished by “punishment” meted out by Israel and the United States. No sooner had the U.N. vote occurred than American Ambassador Susan Rice took the Palestinian Authority to task for taking unilateral action. In the meantime, both Israel and the U.S. Congress are threatening to withhold essential funds from the Palestinian Authority. Second, the contrasting approach to Palestinian liberation – confrontation for Hamas and conciliation and cooperation for the Palestinian Authority – make the prospects for real cooperation and sharing leadership seem dim.
An alternative to a permanent peace is a 50 or 100 year hudnah (truce) between Israel and Hamas. A hudnah is possible because it is a win-win for both Israel and Hamas. More on this follows.
But first, Hamas must demonstrate that it controls its territory. For the past few years Islamic Jihad and other groups have acted freely within the territory that Hamas claims to govern. Israel will not make long-term agreement with Hamas unless Hamas can demonstrate better control of its territory.
Gershon Baskin promoted a long-term hudnah between Israel and Hamas, and described it in his October 17, 2012 Op-Ed in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/israels-shortsighted-assassination.html). Baskin claimed that “key Hamas leaders and members of the Shura Council, its senior decision-making body, supported a new cease-fire effort because they … understood the futility of successive rocket attacks against Israel that left no real damage on Israel and dozens of casualties in Gaza.” The reason this hudnah is different is that it included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches. That is, this hudnah includes mechanisms to verify intentions and ensure compliance.
Baskin’s goal is “to move beyond the patterns of the past. For years, it has been the same story: Israeli intelligence discovers information about an impending terrorist attack from Gaza. The Israeli Army takes pre-emptive action with an airstrike against the suspected terror cells, which are often made up of fighters from groups like Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees or Salafi groups not under Hamas’s control but functioning within its territory. [In retaliation,] these cells launch rockets into Israeli towns near Gaza, and they often miss their targets. The Israeli Air Force responds swiftly. The typical result is between 10 and 25 casualties in Gaza, zero casualties in Israel and huge amounts of property damage on both sides.”
End Gaza Blockade
To be successful a hudnah must end Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The necessary steps have been enunciated by Gisha (http://www.gisha.org/item.asp?lang_id=en&p_id=1749), the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli human rights group focused on protecting the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents, as guaranteed by international and Israeli law.
Gisha says that as of today, “the Israeli government maintains three restrictions on Gaza’s land crossings that must be removed to protect the rights of Palestinians to reach family members and access educational and economic opportunities.” To effect these changes, Israel must:
1. Allow entrance of construction materials for the private sector in Gaza. Israel claims the restrictions are necessary to prevent Hamas from building bunkers, but the massive tunnel commerce makes the ban ineffective.
2. Allow goods from Gaza to reach their traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank. Prior to the ban imposed in June 2007, more than 85% of goods leaving Gaza were sold in Israel and the West Bank.
3. Allow individual travel between Gaza and the West Bank. This will reuniting children with their parents, allow students to attend university, facilitate economic opportunities for manufactures and farmers, and support unification of Palestinian society.
Gisha says these changes will not degrade Israeli security because individual security checks will still be imposed.
Easing the blockade was part of the cease-fire agreement, and some steps have already been announced: (1) Israel has doubled the area that is open to Gaza fisherman from there to six miles from shore. (2) Israel will allow Gaza farmers to plant in the buffer zone – the 1 kilometer wide strip on the Gaza side of the border that Israel had excluded Gazans from. The buffer zone contains about one-third of Gaza’s arable land, and under the rules announced Saturday, Gaza farmers will have access to a significantly fraction of that land.
Gaza Is Becoming a State
A hudnah between Hamas and Israel, and an end to the blockade, are two more steps in a new reality in Israel-Palestine that has been developing over the past several years. This reality is that in spite of the Palestinian Authority’s victory at the United Nations, Gaza is becoming a state separate from the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank. Gaza/Hamas/ status was advanced by its non-loss in the recent war, and will be further accelerated as Israel and the United States work to minimize any positive payoff to the Palestinian people of the Palestinian Authority’s win in the United Nations.
Gaza is already bounded by the 1967 border (the Green Line). Gaza is self ruled by Hamas. And most important, Hamas/Gaza has gotten significant international recognition – the Emir of Qatar visited a few weeks ago, and during the conflict the Secretary General of the Arab League, the Prime Minister of Egypt, and the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan all visited Gaza. All these diplomats treated Gaza as a de facto state. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority were sidelined.
Israel repeatedly negotiated with Hamas. Israel and Hamas negotiated for the June 2008 cease-fire, the cease-fire that ended the 2008-09 Gaza Bombardment (known by Israel as Cast Lead), for the prisoner exchange that released Gilad Shalit, and the present cease-fire. Israel conducted these negotiation through Egypt as a face-saving tactic so it can say it is not negotiating with Hamas. But there is no doubt that Israel knows it is talking to Hamas.
What is a State?
Statehood is defined by the 1933 Treaty of Montevideo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montevideo_Convention). Four criteria are set out that characterize a state:
1. A permanent population
2. A defined territory
3. A government
4. The capacity to enter into relations with the other states.
Gaza/Hamas meets all four criteria. By contrast, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank only clearly meets criteria 1 and 3, less clearly meets criterion 4; and fails to meet criterion 2 due to the Israeli occupation.
As Gaza becomes a state and the Palestinian Authority gets weaker, Israel will exert more and more control over the West Bank. Israel will move to become a “greater Israel” that will extend over all of Area C and some unpopulated parts of Area B – more than half the West Bank. This will only bring about 125,000 Palestinians into Israel, hardly changing the demographic mix and not threatening Israel’s Jewish character.
Most of the 2.6 million West Bank Palestinians will be confined to Bantustans that occupy all of Area A and most of Area B. That is, the Palestinian Authority will be isolated in about half the West Bank or about 10% of Mandate Palestine. These Bantustans will be “islands” within the greater Israel, and will probably still be under the thumb of the Israeli military. It is unlikely they will meet the Montevideo criteria for statehood.
Summing up the above, we may soon see a two-and-a-half state solution in Israel-Palestine. Greater Israel and Gaza will each be seen as viable states, and the Palestinian Authority will exist in sub-state Bantustans.
Israel will likely be tacitly supportive of Gaza statehood. After all, a strong, independent Gaza and a weak Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is exactly the situation in which Israel can pursue its dream of a Greater Israel as outlined above.
A strong Gaza that meets the Montevideo criteria for statehood, If it wished, it would have a fair chance of attaining U.N. membership. But that would trigger a final schism with the Palestinians Authority, and Hamas probably would not want that to happen. Instead, Hamas will be generally supportive of Palestinian Authority efforts for liberation as it did in publically supported the PLOs efforts to up Palestinians status in the United. It seems Hamas accepts the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people in international forums. And just recently Hamas leader Khaled Meshal proposed that Hamas join the PLO and called for called for new PLO elections that would include Hamas (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/world/middleeast/leader-of-hamas-calls-for-palestinian-unity.html).
A two-and-a-half state solution will be good for the people of Gaza, but bad for the people of Israel and the Bantustan Palestinian Authority. Gaza will be independent and slowly revive its economy and civic institutions.
That will not be the case for Palestinians in the Bantustans. Their economy will continue to be degraded because all exports and imports will be at the whims of Israel. But the Palestinians will not go quietly into their Bantustans. Palestinian resistance will continue as it has for 45 years. Israel will still have to petrol the acquired parts of the West Bank in a vain attempt to subdue the Palestinian people. Israel will still face perpetual war.
Gaza is working its way to freedom, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue.