Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Separate Peace with Gaza?

A year ago, at the outset of the latest Gaza war, I mused about a separate peace between Israel and Gaza that splits Gaza from the West Bank. It's a fantasy, of course, like the West Wing episode where President Bartlet solves the Israel/Palestinian crisis by dint of his charm, empathy, and good looks.

Yet, for the past few months news reports have hinted at negotiations between Hamas and Israel for a long term Gaza truce. See, e.g. Amos Harel. Tony Blair has been involved. Other intermediaries from Qatar, Europe, and the UN have been involved. There is talk of an airport and seaport for Gaza. What can it mean?

Not much, thinks Matt Duss. The gulf between Israel and Hamas, he says, is simply too deep. Netanyahu has been comparing Hamas to ISIS, so how likely is it that he would reach an agreement with them that would leave them in charge of Gaza? Concessions to Hamas with respect to Gaza would be perceived as rewarding violence, and Hamas would, of course, continue to work to take over the West Bank. Moreover, a separate peace with Hamas over Gaza would deepen the isolation between Gaza and the West Bank and (without quite explaining why) Duss indicates that any long term solution for peace requires connections between Gaza and the West Bank, and a common leadership. Duss also points to a recent report by the International Crisis Group which also suggests that long term peace prospects are enhanced by maintaining ties between Gaza and the West Bank, not by separating out the West Bank from Gaza.

Nevertheless, at this point in time Gaza and the West Bank are separated both geographically and in their leadership. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are at odds. They don't see eye to eye. And this didn't just happen. Israel has worked hard to bring it about. Israel initially supported Hamas in order to weaken (and play them off against) the dominant Palestinian leadership, Yassir Arafat's Fatah. In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in order to build a fence and isolate Gaza with a blockade. At the same time, Israel constructed a separation barrier around the West Bank and all but eliminated commerce and contact between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Last summer, after Hamas and the Palestinian Authority announced a reconciliation government and announced elections for the fall—which might once again have brought common leadership to the West Bank and Gaza—Israel did its very best to make sure this would not come about. At the same time, comparisons to ISIS notwithstanding, Israel has been supporting the Hamas leadership in Gaza against its more militant rivals for some time.

So, although compelling reasons exist to think that Hamas and Israel are not serious in these reported negotiations, both Hamas and Israel could profit from such a deal, and it is possible they are in fact serious about forging a separate peace between Gaza and Israel.

Padraig O’Malley in The Two State Delusion makes a strong case that the “Two State Solution” is dead. Peter Beinart, in a review in the New York Times lauds the book for its scholarship and detail, but he is frustrated that O’Malley offers no alternative. “Why should I be so presumptuous as to dare to provide a vision for people who refuse to provide one for themselves?” says O’Malley.

Michael Barnett, professor of international affairs and political science at George Washington University, is not so reticent. “As the two-state solution fades into history,” he says, “its alternatives become increasingly likely: civil war, ethnic cleansing or a non-democratic state.” Barnett is putting his money on a non-democratic state. In fact, after 50 years of occupation, he notes “it is probably worth thinking about the ‘occupation’ not as temporary but rather as permanent.” Israel has not been “Jewish and Democratic” for some time. But we shouldn’t give up on democracy just yet.

Ideological goals aside, the prospect of a long term peace and an ability to build up Gaza economically (with international help), must be attractive to everyone living in Gaza. The prospect of a Gaza focused on economic development instead of fighting Israel must be attractive to Israel. It’s better than endlessly repeating the Gaza war, for both sides. It leaves the prospects for genuine democracy in Gaza in play.

And a separate peace with Gaza would allow Israel to pivot towards finding a way to end the occupation. It’s better than civil war or ethnic cleansing. It leaves the possibility of a democracy with Jewish characteristics in play. 
Aftermath of Gaza war 2008/09

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