By Dwight Owen Schweitzer
Former Editor and Publisher of The Jewish Star Times
and syndicated columnist of the Knight Ridder-Tribune News Service
I have often written on the importance of learning the lessons of history and given the state of the peace process between the Israeli government, the Fatah leadership on the West Bank and the role of Hamas in Gaza, I am reminded of the birth of the state of Bangladesh. To offer a quick history lesson, when India achieved statehood it was at the expense of partition between the predominantly Hindu south which remained the India we know today and the Moslem north which became Pakistan, but there was a problem. The new state of Pakistan was not a contiguous country but was in fact two separate geographical areas with no physical connection between them. Is this beginning to sound familiar? What is worthy of note in all this is not that ultimately Pakistan was broken up by revolution into two countries giving birth to Pakistan in the west and Bangladesh in the east, but that trying to make one country out of two disconnected geographical areas posed certain unique problems which called for unique solutions. In the case of Pakistan it was the creation of two countries out of one but does that need to be the case with the likewise separated Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza?
I am not suggesting even exploring the creation of two Palestinian states, one on the West Bank and another in Gaza; but rather I am suggesting that in terms of the peace process, that they be treated differently and the reasons are hopefully obvious. If we were to pretend for purposes of this analysis that Gaza did not exist and that Israel was only negotiating with the Abbas government on the West Bank I think most analysts would agree that the problems to be resolved would be immeasurably easier, the parties more receptive to compromise, and the results of a negotiated settlement would be easier to sell to the respective populations of the two ‘countries’ offering a greater chance for a lasting and mutually beneficial peace.
I liken Gaza to Bangladesh only to the extent that it is the power center of Hamas which has a mind of its own when it comes to peace with Israel and as long as Hamas is at the table it has the ability to derail even the best of intentions of the remaining parties to the process. So what am I getting at you might ask and the answer is deceptively simple. Create the Palestinian state in two phases. Phase one is the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank while leaving Gaza in the condition it presently finds itself and for as long as it wants to play by different rules. The ‘admission’ of Gaza into the newly created Palestinian state would be left up to the now existing state of Palestine on the West Bank subject to agreed upon ‘threshold’ criteria negotiated and incorporated into the peace agreement which gave birth to the new West Bank state negotiated with the state of Israel, the terms of which are not too difficult to imagine.
In the meantime, the status of relations between the new West Bank state and Israel will hopefully begin to again bear the fruits that existed before the last intifada, when Palestinians freely traveled into Israel to work, economic cooperation was on the rise and a real time example of the benefits to be achieved by peaceful coexistence with Israel will begin to manifest itself for all to see. To avoid a civil war between the two Palestinian ‘entities’ Jordan, Egypt and Israel with the help of the U.S. and the U, N,, would cooperate with the new Palestinian state to insure it’s independence and sovereignty and there would not only not be free travel between the two Palestinian areas, but the citizens of the new West Bank state of Palestine would be given papers documenting their citizenship with technologically enhanced forgery protections.
It is worth remembering that the strength of Hamas in Gaza came about through the benign neglect of the Arafat regime when it came to providing even basic social services to the populace and Hamas was there to fill the vacuum. History has shown that the process of winning the loyalty of the populace is best accomplished by the party who meets the basic needs of the people whose loyalty it seeks and it should come as no surprise that Hamas did and Fatah did not. By this process, Gaza would, in effect, become a protectorate of the newly created state of Palestine until such time as it was entitled to full absorption into Palestine with all the rights and privileges existing in their new ‘homeland’. It is hoped that through this process the desire for unity along with the benefits of economic growth and enhanced social services emerging in the new state of Palestine will turn the population of Gaza away from the present leadership towards the path of peace and reconciliation, first with their own people and thereafter with their neighbor.