Israel first officially recognized the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as one territory in the declaration of principles signed by Israel with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1995. Its significance is primarily legal and political, the achievement of a nationalist organization striving to prepare for statehood. But arrangements for a crossing between these areas have never been worked out, and the concept of "safe passage" remains a promise or perhaps a wish.
In 2005, Shimon Peres, then deputy prime minister, explained that the Israeli recommendation for safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank would be a train that, after authorization, would cross between the Erez checkpoint in north Gaza to Tarqumiya in the South Hebron Hills.
Other alternatives arose during discussions, specifically a subterranean or secured road that would pass near Kiryat Gat.
The vision of Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (a tunnel, see Bridging the gap with a dream), suited the atmosphere of that time: one was running an election campaign in an optimistic spirit, while the other was involved in feverish discussions about negotiations.
Today, with political matters missing from the public agenda, statements by various senior government officials sound different, too. The former head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, remarked last week in a panel discussion that "the unity between Hamas and Fatah is an illusion. Despite the apparent spirit of peace and unity in the Palestinian Authority, I don't believe in it. It may exist on a governmental level, but it won't unite Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] to Gaza and the Palestinians there," Diskin said. "There are too many economic and cultural gaps, and demographic problems that will make a united Palestinian Authority difficult [to achieve]. The chance for an alliance between the two sides is almost impossible."
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