The Sea and the Mountain States

Can a state that is divided into two parts, in the midst of which is another state, continue to exist for a prolonged period?

Gideon Biger.
Gideon Biger
The Erez border crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip.
The Erez border crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip.Credit: Reuters
Gideon Biger.
Gideon Biger

It is about to happen. There is pressure in the world to recognize Palestinian independence, and concurrently the Palestinian Authority has signed an agreement with Hamas in Gaza for unity and joint political activity. But apart from the political discussion, there is a geographic question to be asked: Can a state that is divided into two parts, in the midst of which is another state, continue to exist for a prolonged period?

As things stand, we are about to see a new state on the map of the world whose most unique feature will be that it consists of two parts, without territorial contiguity on land or by sea. Beyond all the political differences of opinion, and whether it is good or bad for Israel, the question arises of whether it will be able to survive.

A short survey of similar cases in the past does not leave room for optimism on this issue. In the past century, there were several countries whose different parts were not territorially touching. Following World War I, a German state was created which had one part - Eastern Prussia and the city of Danzig (Gdansk ) - that was non-contiguous with its other parts; access was through a corridor in Polish territory that connected the capital of Warsaw to the sea.

Following World War II, West Germany was created and part of it, West Berlin, was not territorially contiguous with the other parts. When British India broke up, the state of Pakistan was set up on the basis of the Muslim population of the sub-continent. The Pakistani state of 1947 consisted of two parts, east and west, in the middle of which lay India. Between 1948 and 1967, the state of Israel likewise had a territorial enclave, Mount Scopus, that did not have territorial contiguity with other parts of the country.

In all of these cases, mechanisms were put in place to connect the different parts - a safe passage route (Berlin ), special roads or train lines, air routes, convoys (Mt. Scopus ), and so forth.

These mechanisms remained in effect for a short time and eventually broke down, either because of another round of war (the Danzig and Mt. Scopus enclaves ); because of a union between the two parts (Berlin ); or because one of the parts broke away and became independent (Eastern Pakistan, which became Bangladesh ).

Today there is merely one salient example of a state with territory that is non-contiguous: The United States, where Canada cuts between Alaska and its other parts. But it has a safe and free marine passage between the areas and the relations between the U.S. and Canada are such that no special arrangements are needed to pass through.

Additional cases were created when the Soviet Union broke up. In the Caucasus region, there is the area of Nakhchivan, which belongs to Azerbaijan but is separated from it by Armenian territory, and there is no direct or indirect connection between the two parts. Simultaneously, inside Azerbaijan itself is the temporary, unofficial province of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited mainly by Armenians but does not have territorial contiguity to Armenia. A third case is that of the Kaliningrad area, the Russian territory on the shores of the Baltic Sea which is cut off from the rest of Russia.

These unique territories have been in existence for the past 20 years and they have various kinds of access routes to them, but it is still difficult to see how they will continue to exist.

As for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, there has been a great deal of talk about a safe passage route, bridges, tunnels, air connections, supervision of travelers and vehicles, etc., and many people are occupied with this. However, historical experience shows that, even if they existed for a number of years, mechanisms of this kind didn't manage to survive in the end.

It can be argued that one cannot draw conclusions from events of the past for those of the future. However, it seems likely that eventually - both because of the obvious difference between Gaza and Ramallah, and the fact that both territories are linked by being the products of military occupation in 1948 (Egyptian in the Gaza Strip and Jordanian-Iraqi in the West Bank ) without any previous basis for uniqueness - two separate Arab states will be set up in the Land of Israel: A Gazan state that is on the sea and is flat, and which is connected more to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea; and a mountain state in the West Bank that is connected to Jordan and the east.

Prof. Gideon Biger is a member of Tel Aviv University's Geography Department.

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