The Separation Began Long Ago

The growing separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that we are currently witnessing began long before the bloody events of the past week, when Hamas took control of Gaza and threatened to establish its own regime there. The history of this separation affects the current situation.

Back in September 1948, the Egyptian government helped the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, to create a Palestinian government in Gaza. It was called the All-Palestine Government, in order to emphasize its pretensions of ruling over all of Palestine. The Husseinis were rivals of the Hashemite regime of King Abdullah in Jordan, so Egypt installed Ahmad Hilmi Pasha, a Husseini loyalist, as prime minister in an effort to block the king's attempts to annex the West Bank. King Abdullah responded by convening a series of conferences in the West Bank. In the largest of these, held in December 1948 in Jericho, participants urged the king to save Palestine by incorporating the West Bank into his kingdom.

The differences between Gaza and the West Bank deepened during the 19-year period (1948-67) in which Egypt and Jordan, respectively, governed those territories. Most of the 1948 refugees who fled to the West Bank went on to settle in Jordan, while Gaza turned into a giant refugee camp. Today, refugees and their descendants comprise over 60 percent of Gaza's population. Gaza residents are poorer than their West Bank counterparts. Many young Gazans study in Egypt, where they form ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The two parts of Palestine were reunited following the Six Day War and remained so, under Israeli rule, until 1993. For several years after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, abortive efforts were made to establish a "safe passage" between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The separation between Gaza and the West Bank deepened after Israel constructed fences around the Gaza Strip and, later, in the West Bank as well, effectively cutting the two areas off from each other. For years, the PA cabinet and other government bodies had to rely on video conferencing in order to meet in full complement. The fences around Gaza and in the West Bank have increased the ties between the West Bank and Jordan, on one hand, and between Gaza and Egypt, on the other.

The infant Hamas state will be forced to rely on Egypt. Cairo, like Jerusalem, does not want to accept responsibility for the Gaza Strip, but it will probably be unable to avoid involving itself in its affairs.