What should be done with the Gaza Strip? The question comes up every time tension in the south rises.
Leading pundits ask the question of retired generals in the hope of getting an answer that promises salvation, rather like ancient Greeks longing for an answer from the gods on Olympus. But all the answers revolve around the same old colonialist approach that has characterized Israel’s security policy for generations.
Not human rights, freedom and self-determination, but control via carrots and sticks: defeating Hamas, but leaving it in power. Controlling the sea and the air and the border crossings, but giving people a glimmer of hope through minor relaxations of the siege and the introduction of infrastructure projects that will provide jobs. The main thing is for Gaza to remain a territory surrounded by fences, deterred and barely breathing, but alive.
This model wasn’t developed in the past few months or years. It also operates in the West Bank, despite efforts to conceal it. And for now, the model is working well, despite the geographic and demographic differences between the territories.
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The West Bank is divided into canton centered on the main cities. With them, there is a semblance of freedom of movement and freedom of commerce, but nobody can enter or leave without Israeli permission. Many Palestinians do leave for work, despite occasional terror attacks.
Overall, Israeli control over the West Bank is almost absolute. As far as Israel is concerned, the Palestinian Authority and its security services are supplying the goods by preventing escalation. All the threats by senior PA officials to dismantle the deal and hand back the keys no longer impress anyone.
This is the model Israel would like to advance in the Gaza Strip. It would like to stay as far away as possible from a comprehensive political arrangement and promote a plan for its continued control based on the same parameters as in the West Bank. The Strip would become one big canton. Hamas would be the de facto sovereign, policing and keeping the peace. Unlike the West Bank, Gaza has no Israeli settlements, so as long as there’s no rocket and mortar fire into Israel, everything’s under control.
But Hamas, unlike the PA, is hard to restrain, mainly because of its rockets and tunnels. That’s why Israel invested billions to develop the Iron Dome anti-missile system and build the new fence around Gaza.
The entry of U.S. envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, in cooperation with Arab states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is meant in the eyes of Netanyahu’s Israel to complete this plan. Egypt, which has a vital interest in calming Gaza down because of the territory’s impact on Sinai, will play the policeman who restrains Hamas. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and perhaps the United Arab Emirates will pay for the projects, which will be under United Nations auspices.
The hope is that curbing Hamas while improving Gaza’s infrastructure will ensure long-term quiet, safeguard Israel’s security interests and sever the connection between Gaza and the West Bank, so that all talk of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders would become irrelevant.
Hamas understands this plan quite well, and therefore, it will officially oppose and assail it. But in practice, it won’t oppose civilian projects in Gaza as long as its rule isn’t in danger.
In a statement, Abbas said: “the American delegation has to realize that there’s no point in looking for alternatives and illusions that are meant to divide the Palestinian homeland and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
His spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, added on his behalf that “true peace obligates the implementation of decisions made by the international community, that are based on a two-state solution, a Palestinian state built on the 67’ borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and the creation of an international mechanism to put the peace process back on the right track.”
The PA leaders need to recognize that the model they are perpetuating in the West Bank is the inspiration for what Israel and the Trump administration seek to do in Gaza, and that they are indirectly serving the interests of Jerusalem and Washington. The goal is to rule the Palestinians for generations, with no diplomatic agreement that necessitates determining borders and resolving the core issues. For Israel and the United States, it would be a huge success if the Arab states adopted and promoted this formula.
The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and Gaza can kick and scream, but their complaints should be directed first and foremost at themselves and only afterward at the rest of the world. For unless they end the internal schism and return their mandate to the Palestinian people via free and democratic elections, which would produce a new leadership with a new strategy and a new agenda, the Palestinians will be left with few weapons to fight the plans being concocted to liquidate their national aspirations.