Decouple the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

The latest round of violence between Hamas and Fatah signal the need for diplomats to consider decoupling the West Bank and Gaza Strip. With Hamas battling Fatah for control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territories could well be on the way toward splitting into a largely secular West Bank and Islamist Gaza Strip. Even if a temporary truce is reached between the two warring parties, and the shelf-life of such truces has proved short, the fundamental ideological differences that divide the two Palestinian territories will persist. Such differing worldviews will have a potentially major impact on the larger Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

From their starkly contrasting vantage points, the West Bank’s leaders will continue to view their dispute with Israel as a political matter. The Gaza Strip’s Islamists will see the dispute in terms of religious obligation. The West Bank’s leaders will seek political settlement to bring about a better future. The Gaza Strip’s leaders will seek only total victory. Consequently, negotiations with the West Bank’s leaders would be the “art of the possible,” while any talks with the Gaza Strip’s leadership would be the “art of the impossible.” Given this reality, international and regional diplomats should seriously examine treating the historic Israel-Palestinian dispute, not as a single matter subject to a grand, if not idealistic, final settlement at some time in the future, but as two separate disputes: one between Israel and the West Bank, and the other between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Then, the diplomatic process could proceed on a more realistic path that focuses on achieving progress where it is possible, while limiting the spread of violence from areas where progress is not feasible.

Even if the latest round of fighting wanes, the disparate political dynamics that govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip have already created a de facto two-entity reality. Furthermore, no matter the outcome of the latest round of Hamas-Fatah combat, the ideological differences that separate the two areas are likely to grow with the passage of time. In turn, the de facto two-entity reality will only harden, making diplomacy that ignores this reality even more futile.

The ideological differences between Fatah and Hamas are unbridgeable. Fatah’s position, as expressed in the 1993 Israel-Palestine Liberation Organization Agreement is that it is “time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their [Israelis’ and Palestinians’] mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process.” Even as Yasser Arafat ultimately proved unwilling to reach a historic final settlement, Fatah had staked out a position that allowed for mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence.

Hamas, on the other hand, embraces a radical triumphalist approach. Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist and seeks only its destruction. Furthermore, Hamas defines its rejectionism as a matter of religious obligation. The Hamas Charter declares, “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgment Day.” The Charter also declares, “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion.”

A diplomatic formula that ignores the irreconcilable differences that currently divide the predominantly Fatah-led West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip has very little chance to succeed. Failure to consider the emerging two-entity reality will only thwart the possibility of diplomatic success, limit the possibility of containing the spread of violence from the Gaza Strip, and provide time for radical Islamists to accumulate power in the West Bank. A new approach that seeks to consolidate gains made in the West Bank from past diplomatic accords and then incrementally advance the West Bank along a political horizon toward full-fledged sovereignty, coupled with a tough approach that erects a “firewall” around the radical Islamist “statelet” that is emerging in the Gaza Strip holds the most realistic prospect of promoting stability and advancing political reconciliation. Such a two-track approach would leverage the West Bank’s leaders’ relative pragmatism to reach negotiated agreements, allow the pragmatists to strengthen their standing from diplomatic achievements, and provide mechanisms by which the West Bank could develop a viable and sustainable economy and functioning political and legal institutions necessary for full sovereignty. An approach that seals off the Gaza Strip to all but humanitarian assistance would insulate surrounding areas from the spread of the kind of violence and radicalism that currently plague the Gaza Strip.

Some might argue that such an approach would lead Gaza toward “state failure.” However, it is already a failed “statelet.” Hamas’ illiberal domination of that area has suffocated investment flows, barred economic development, and made the rule of law all but impossible. Violence is widespread, legal authority is practically non-existent, and 63% of the Gaza Strip’s residents live in poverty.

Others might assert that such an approach would require Israel to invade the Gaza Strip. They would warn that such an approach would lead to the kind of insurgency that bedeviled Israeli forces in Lebanon and currently hinders U.S. forces in Iraq. They would also caution that beyond the Gaza Strip, Israel’s invasion of that area would give new fuel to regional and global radical Islamist movements. Those arguments are actually irrelevant. Containment of the Gaza Strip does not require an Israeli invasion. It entails sealing off that area’s borders and waters. Egypt and Israel both have the means and the national security interests to do so. Both are eager to curtail the spread of instability from the Gaza Strip. Both are concerned about growing Iranian influence over Hamas. Therefore, they have genuine reason to work together to safeguard their common interests.

Nevertheless, even as the Gaza Strip is sealed off, the diplomatic process should leave available an avenue by which the Gaza Strip could later have a chance to rejoin the larger negotiating process or eventually be absorbed into an increasingly sovereign West Bank, perhaps modeled after West Germany’s absorption of East Germany at the end of the Cold War.

There would be the possibility that visible political and economic progress in the West Bank could eventually inspire a new pragmatic leadership to gain sufficient popular support within the Gaza Strip to topple Hamas, whose rule would bring only hardship and economic misery for the isolated territory. Smart diplomacy always leaves openings to seize upon positive developments that might occur. A process that decouples the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be no different.

In the end, if there is a silver-lining to the current Hamas-Fatah fighting, it is that this conflict has put into the open the reality that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are truly two distinct entities. A diplomatic approach that embraces this reality, offers perhaps the best chance to unfreeze the status quo that benefits none of the parties. If the new approach can achieve progress in the West Bank and contain the spread of instability from the Gaza Strip, the seeds for a new regional architecture that would be more conducive to political reconciliation could be planted. At a time when chaos reigns in an increasingly sectarian Iraq, possible ethnic conflict simmers in Lebanon, and Iran continues its rise toward possible regional hegemony, the potential benefits from decoupling the West Bank and Gaza Strip are made even more attractive than they would otherwise be.
It is very hard for the two territories to exist as one at this point in time like you point out with the Islamist Hamas in Gaza and the secular, nationalist Fatah in the West Bank. However, the point of the conflict is that people in the Gaza Strip ordinary security forces and ordinary civilians are tired of the actions that has been taken by the Hamas government and therefore that has bubbled into the spreading conflict that is claiming dozens of lives in the Gaza Strip. It is not about religous fanatisicm but more about the social and economic presure that has been put onto the Strip and is now boiling over. If I hadn't been paid in over a year I would be damn made at the government, and since the government is Hamas well now a shaky Hamas-Fatah coalition, the security forces are directing their anger at the Hamas government and the Hamas government in an effort to remain in power is using its illegal militias in illegal ways.

The Hamas Charter defines the group as the "Islamic Resistance Movement." Article 1 declares, "The Islamic Resistance Movement: The Movement's programme is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgement in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps." Article 2 proclaims, "The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine. Moslem Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterised by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgement, the spreading of Islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to Islam." Article 6 states, "The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned. In the absence of Islam, strife will be rife, oppression spreads, evil prevails and schisms and wars will break out."

That religious context--more properly Hamas using the name of religion for its own political purpose--is essential to understanding Hamas. Today's news reports following Hamas' capturing the last major Fatah stronghold in Gaza City highlighted that group's appeal to religion. Today, The Guardian reported:

Hamas vowed to press on with its attacks as Palestinian infighting turned Gaza into a war zone. "There will be no dialogue with Fatah, only the sword and the rifle," Nezar Rayyan, a top Hamas leader, told Hamas radio.

"This is a battle between Muslims and non-believers, and God willing, we will lead the Friday prayer in the president's office, and transform the (Fatah-controlled) security complex into a big mosque.",,2102898,00.html
Just the Facts
Free Thinker
They need a two state solution!
Dreadful Nonsense
they need to understand "Divide and conquor"
Hamas is a bunch of Islamist terrorist thugs, and that is hard for me to say that, but no Muslim man executes another Muslim man he has been fighting against in front of one's own familiy as read by the script of the Quran as written by Muhammed through the words of Allah as Allah is merciful especially with regards to Muslim combatants that surrender to other Muslim combatants. Hamas is through the use of the Quran is trying to state that Fatah members are not Muslims and do not deserve such protection, which marks mostly every Fatah member who surrenders for death, so like I say before Fatah needs to fight back hard, do all it can to wipe out Hamas, before Hamas wipes out them in Gaza.

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