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Who deleted Gaza?

Israeli policy conveys that there is no Palestine, only two chunks of land divided by people, politics and culture. Some international actors and many Israelis are convinced. Are Palestinians?

Palestinian flag (Shutterstock.com)

 

A recent New York Times report on the World Economic Forum held at the Dead Sea last month, carried the following headline: “Trying to Revive Mideast Talks, Kerry Pushes Investment Plan for West Bank.” The first paragraph of the article went on to explain:

In an effort to revive the moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan on Sunday to invest as much as $4 billion to develop the economy of the West Bank.

And further down in the article:

The idea would be to give the Palestinians an incentive to negotiate and to ensure that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would be viable.

There’s one problem: the word ‘Gaza’ is missing. Its absence psychologically deletes 1.7 million people who make up nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population in Israel/Palestine and probably a greater portion of the perceived political problem in the region.

Yet it wasn’t Kerry who deleted Gaza. Although he used the term “Palestinian Authority,” which at present rules only over the West Bank, he probably did so because American policy precludes reference to “Palestine” or a Palestinian state. But he clearly had both regions in mind: he spoke of investment in the Palestinian economy (full text here), saying:

Ultimately, as the investment climate in the West Bank and Gaza improves, so will the potential for a financial self-sufficient Palestinian Authority that will not have to rely as much on foreign aid.

And he ended his speech calling to improve lives on both sides and citing as an example, “the little girls that I saw playing in rubble in Gaza.”

Yet something was lost in the in rendition provided by multiple news outlets. Palestine became the West Bank. Who deleted Gaza?

Apologies for the predictable answer. When piecing together seemingly irreconcilable aspects of the previous Netanyahu government’s policy, a picture becomes clear: talk the two-state talk to satisfy key allies, while ensuring that the Palestinian people and land are irreparably fragmented to the point where no one is capable of imagining them as a state, even Palestinians themselves.

Selling the message of separation

As part of that larger goal, I submit that there was a highly conscious effort during Netanyahu’s second (previous) term to sever Gaza from the West Bank conceptually, beyond the physical separation imposed by political geography. Three target audiences can be discerned for the message that there are only two lumps of land called Gaza and the West Bank but no Palestine: Israelis, the international community, and no less important, the Palestinians themselves. At least for this one specific mission, Israel surely remembered to take them into account.

Re-reading Netanyahu’s previous term, the first part of the equation – talking the two-state talk – is clear. Given that Washington and European allies view two-states as the only game in town, he grudgingly accepted the notion in the “Bar Ilan speech” early in his term; similarly, endless haggling over re-starting negotiations supposedly conveyed his commitment to the goal.

Yet there is evidence to back the accusation that Netanyahu proposed negotiations primarily for the sake of extending them. He created untenable pre-conditions such as demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and perpetuated the old Labor Party trick of continuing to build, grab and institutionalize the settlements. Imagine throwing acid on the Palestinian-“controlled” areas (circumscribed by Israeli military sovereignty), which probably look like anomalies, warts and blemishes on ancient Israeli land to Netanyahu, and watching them shrink. He cut roads and planned development through the body of the West Bank, winked at rogue hilltop expansion and bogged down its prevention in bureaucracy. All the while, his government did everything to discredit the Palestinian Authority, who fulfilled the real requirement for negotiations – namely, security.

Netanyahu doesn’t get all the credit. When it comes to implementing policies conveying Israel’s support for a two-state peace agreement while the results are the opposite, the master is Ariel Sharon. In this view, dismantling settlements in Gaza set the unified Palestinian entity on a course of destruction and sent the peace process into a jar of “formaldehyde,” even as Israelis and many outsiders viewed the move as an unprecedented concession. And Sharon, as argued here  (I have heard this echoed by other mainstream policy figures in Israel), fully intended that.

The stake through the heart of the idea of a Palestinian state is the conceptual and physical severance of Gaza. Seen in this way, much becomes clear:

In hindsight, the idea that Israel’s blockade following Hamas’ rise to power would cause Palestinians to rebel and depose the Hamas leadership seems like a laughable prospect. Instead, then-Prime Minister Olmert’s goal, likely inspired by Sharon, was probably to ensure permanent surgical separation of Gaza from the West Bank in every way.

The lockdown of Gaza’s borders cultivated a radically different economy. The West Bank experienced growth, Gaza festered or sank deeper into the tunnel- and donor-driven market. Netanyahu stuck out the counterproductive policy for four more years after taking office despite few tangible benefits. Why, if not to deepen de facto separation?

Waging war against Gaza, not Palestine

Gaza’s isolation and authoritarian rule led to a different cultural environment from the West Bank in terms of political freedoms, religious and social norms.

Israeli policy gave an excuse for militant groups to fire rockets, which gave Israel the excuse to conduct wars, not against the Palestinians, but “against Gaza.” The most recent war gave Hamas the excuse to claim victory, deepening the bitter political division within Palestinian leadership.

Netanyahu probably hoped that Palestinians themselves would stop viewing each other as a unified people destined for statehood.

International audiences often unwittingly perpetuated the notion that that the West Bank and Gaza are distinct and discrete entities. The blockade drove global efforts to ‘free Gaza,’ not Palestine. Activists fell for it; the elaborate and controversial flotilla initiative of 2010 focused unprecedented global attention on the plight of Gaza. Not Palestinians.

The news coverage of Kerry’s speech cited earlier is a worrying sign that the change in global perception is nearly complete. Local activists sent letters to the editor about it, but as far as I know, none were published and no mistake was acknowledged. Gisha, the Israeli civil society organization dealing with freedom of movement for Gazans, pointed out the problem in an article at the Daily Beast.

Israelis dutifully embraced the principle. Naftali Bennett became a refreshingly honest voice for the prime minister’s deceptions, when during the election campaign in late 2012, he revealed explicit plans to do what Netanyahu was already doing on the ground. It also turned out to be smart for stealing Netanyahu’s votes. Page 2 of Bennett’s master plan to solve the conflict reads:

Point 6. The separation of gaza [sic] from West Bank. …We must recognize that there is no connection between Gaza and Judea and Samaria…Gaza is already becoming closer to, and more dependent on, Egypt. This process is ongoing and Gaza is not our responsibility…Now the burden is being passed to Egypt.

Members of Netanyahu’s party find this a grand idea. At a conference in mid-June at Tel Aviv University marking 20 years since the Oslo accords, Likud Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely unveiled a right-wing version of one state, through annexing the West Bank. When pressed about Gaza she responded simply that it would come under Egyptian control.

Will the strategy work? I think the key is the Palestinians, because I have observed in other conflicts how the identity of a tiny, politically weak and divided people can defy the wishes of a far more powerful sovereign state. So, will Palestinian national identity ever go gentle into that good night?

For a hint, consider the victory of Mohammad Assaf a few days ago in the Arab Idol reality song contest. My exuberant Palestinian friend and co-director of IPCRI Riman Barakat, from East Jerusalem, wrote this on her personal Facebook wall.

As we speak the cheers and car horns are sounding louder and louder than ever in the streets of Gaza, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Nazareth. It is inevitably a historic night for all Palestinians. As we have continued throughout the past years and months to speak about Palestinian fragmentation, the different statuses of Palestinians in Gaza, the refugees, West Bank Palestinians, Jerusalemites, Palestinians in Israel, Palestinians in the Diaspora, tonight has unified all Palestinians in one voice, all focused their efforts and attention on voting for the Arab idol.

Lest there be any doubt about the perceived political importance of this event, she continued:

This great happiness has never been experienced before by the Palestinian people. As far as I remember, the last time Palestinians were cheering in the streets [was] upon the return of the late Yasser Arafat to Gaza in 1994 after 27 years of exile.  This great happiness today does bespeak the thirst of the Palestinian people for an idol, a source of pride and victory… We ought to all work hard to be stars, stars in science, art, politics, philosophy, academia, sports; achievement and hard work are what make the true essence of nationhood. Let us leave slogans behind, and instead focus on doing.

If the promise of her joy pans out, it wouldn’t be the first Israeli policy that was ill-conceived, and ill-fated.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Ibnab

      “1.7 million people who make up nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian population”
      The Palestinian population includes refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere and the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Point taken – I thought it was clear, but I have updated the text to refer specifically to Israel/Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    3. blah

      Part of this trend is the increasing use of Gazan, instead of Palestinian, in the press, especially the NYT.

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      Bennett might not remember this, but Gazans and West Bankers have already spent 19 years physically separated without harming their national identities (although I’m not sure about whether the ’48-’67 separation was as physically hermetic as it is now). What with today’s ease of communication via internet, they have a much better chance of mutually reinforcing that identity for as long as it takes now than they did in those days. I don’t see it going gently into the night.

      Reply to Comment
    5. etinzon

      Not everything is so gloomy. Israeli extremists speak more and more about throwing Palestinian to Jordan – with the idea of killing whoever stands against this. This will only include Palestinians in the West Bank , and not their lucky brothers in Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Moshe

      Dahlia, as always well written even if we disagree. But you made a few good points. One is that because the two territories are ruled by two separate governments it creates a defacto situation where negotiations are held with one or the other but The PA does not represent Hamas and vice a versa. For example this past winter in Gaza the cease fire was between Israel and Hamas, while (when) “peace” negotiations are held its only with the PA.
      The other point is preconditions with both sides always claiming we will negotiate without preconditions, except for a whole shopping list of our own conditions. This applies equally no side is worse then the other. I will point out that recognition (of both sides) is a must with any peace accord not just here specifically, otherwise who is making peace with whom and what guarantees any agreement.

      Reply to Comment
    7. “Likud Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely unveiled a right-wing version of one state, through annexing the West Bank. When pressed about Gaza she responded simply that it would come under Egyptian control.” : This has seemed to be the end goal for some time. I believe a one state incorporating the Bank would lead to civil resistence–in fact, greater socio-economic ties are needed to make that resistence effective. The “beauty” of Gaza for the right is that it is quarantined from interaction building ties; Egypt, with a strong Islamic politics, will not be able to ignore the Gazans over time, I think, moving towards Hotovely’s prediction. This does not mean, however, that this outcome is stable, only that it seems increasingly likely. The decision to isolate Hamas after its free election, irrespectie of their offer of a “truce,” has lead all here. Gaza is now seen has the largest external refugee camp imaginable, which is a simple extension of insulating fortress nationalism. Yet I cannot see a noncontiguous Palestinian State being effective either. The trap is long and hard.

      Reply to Comment
    8. rsgengland

      Gaza is almost an independent country already.
      All its functions of Governance are established and separate from the Palestinian Authority.
      They effectively run their own internal and foreign policy, and if Egypt opened the border between the two States, its existence as an independent state would be complete.
      I am no great fan of Hamas, but at least their administration has done more for its residents than the corrupt administration in Ramallah.

      Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      It has long been noted that the victorious World War I powers that defeated the Ottomoan Empire divided it up in an arbitrary way that that suited their needs but did not reflect the population patters on the ground. Countries were created that didn’t reflect communal sentiments of their people
      All of theee states became authoritarian regimes that tried to impose a new national identity With the fall of these regimes in recent years, the local sentiments, which never really accepted the new idenity have resurfaced. Thus, Iraq has essentially broken up, so has Libya and now Syria seems to have been effectively partiioned by the stalemate in the war there, with Assad controlling the Damascus area and the Alawite region in the north, and the rebels the rest of the country. THus, it should not be surprising that the same would happen to the Palesetinians. Gaza and the West Bank have very different histories (Egyptian vs Jordaniian influence) and populations with different histories (refugees, largely from the coastal region vs settled urban and rural population) so it was probably inevitable that they would evolve different regimes

      Reply to Comment
      • I feel much better. The icing of the Palestinian Legislative Council upon the election of Hamas had no effect at all; the partition was historically inevitable.

        Reply to Comment
    10. jjj

      Don’t understand what’s the fuss is all about.
      The separation of Gaza was self inflicted by Hamas. The territory was provided to Gazans (or might say, returned to Gazans), without any reciprocal requirements. And what did the Palestinians do? Installed an Islamist facist and antisemite (in the sense of anti-Jew) regime.
      All those yappi paragraphs in the article refer, ludicriously, to how unfair the Israeli treatment of Gazans as a separate entity, when in fact, it was initiated by Hamas.
      Almost funny to see how Israel is blamed for something which is completely out of its hands – the well known approach to villify and demonize Israel regardless of the plain and simple truth.

      If the Palestinians want a unitified solution, then Hamas should step down, disarm itself and allow Abu-Mazen back the complete control.
      It is that simple.

      Reply to Comment
      • There is no single “Palestinian,” just as there is, much to the chagrin of some, no single “Israeli.” Installing a single Palestinian mind is a good way to feel righteous when it refuses to do the sensible thing you define on its behalf; by this mind is fantasy solely for your benefit.

        I believe it was a mistake to quarantine the Legislative Council (and the PA thereby) upon election of Hamas; that quarantine included an Israeli State decision to keep Gaza “just above starvation levels.” To accept that Council would have entailed risk, yes; but without risk the only advance is to further kick one’s opponent in the teeth. Gazan lives are much more than Hamas.

        Reply to Comment
      • Noevil9

        Jjj,
        You could not be more mistaken . You can’t forget that Israel is the one who encouraged Hamas to take more active political role to offset the PLO. That took place around 1981-82. Then there was the “Trick” of the Oslo agreement . The main purpose was to bring the PLO leadership under the controlled movement of Israeli forces. If it was peace, that could have been done in a couple of years, as Israel new what the PLO wanted and vise versa. Then Arafat was not being totally controlled /co-operative,and then the Intifadas , then Israel got rid of Arafat with the help and promises to Abbas and Dehalan. Then Israel and the US came up with the brilliant idea of Democratic and open elections. They under estimated the dis appointment of the Palestinians in the lack of progress from the PA in achieving peace, so they voted for Hamas, which Israel was trying to get rid off ,because they became too popular, and were rallying too much of public support, both in Gaza and the WB. What to do? They called the election as none binding, but there were past US president and some Internationals ,that gave legitimacy to the out come of this Israel/US called election. The logical next move of some one who was looking for peace, would be to set down and negotiate peace with the Democratically elected party. Like them, hate them, they are the elected representatives of the people. But no! That is not Israel, nor the US intention.Instead, they planed a new covert operation with their cronies, Abbas and Dahlan. With the consent of Mubarak of Egypt . They gathered about 600 troops of mixed trained and armed Palestinians(mixed)by all three, and planed on invading Gaza from Rafah. Which they did. To their demise, the Hamas people were informed by some friendly sources in Egypt of the plan, and they were ready to defend what could have been a massacre to all Hamas leaders. Again, the plot thickens and the out comes is not what Israel and the US have wished for. Then there was the starvation and the closer of Gaza, land ,sea, and air. 1.6 Million people on the edge of starvation and full restriction of movement as a punishment of not lying down and surrender to the wishes of those who want to steal their land and slave them as cheap working force, and a consumers market.So, you tell me where is the good intentions of repeated plots to the demise of the Palestinians do you see, and I have missed? I hope that you are just a simple minded individual , that have been fooled by the Israeli Hasbara , and not one of those Hasbaras themselves, that want to deceive us. Israel does not want peace, but want Palestine in its entirety Piece, by piece
        The truth will come out bit by bit, you just wait and see. There are enough good Jewish people and the rest of us whom are tired of the deception.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Noevil9

      Most of the times actions speakslouder thanks words. That is still true with this situation. Israel interest and plans do not contain finding out the best possible ways to reach a peaceful agreement with the Palestinians, in Gaza and the West Bank. It is actually the opposit of such thing. So., they are always seeking and digging out ways to complicate, creat more obesticales to creat an environment of excuses to sell to their public and the world the notion of how difficult it is to deal or seek any agreement with the Palestinians. Fragmenting the Palestinians was one target that Israel was working on for a long time. Arresting or killing, some times expelling the Palestinian leaders was another trick up their sleeve, then screaming out loud; there is no one to talk to. Appointing Abbas and his cronies ,after some how getting rid of Arraft (?) is another, then they claim, Abbas does not speak for all the Palestinians and he has no control. That is after they ,the Israelis toyed with him for so many years with no progress, except showing that Hamas can’t get economical prosperity for the Palestinians as Abbas could, because he listens to the Americans and Israelis. Yet, that was also a tool to drive the wedge deeper, between Gaza, and the West Bank Palestinians. Israel, is getting to be a very well known entity to the world as a combination of old Colonialism, fascism ,occupier and apartheid regim. By way of deception, we wage wars! Is their very known slogan. The rest is just to show the Jewish talent in making a good Hollywood movie. Unfortunatly ,not all the blame would fall on the Americans and the Israelis, the naïveté of the Palestinian/Arab mentality is also to blame, as they are gullibile to any sectarian wedges the West and Israel have placed in their homes, societies and lands to fragment them so to control and steal their resources while they are busy killing each other. Very idiotic behavior that they can’t blame anyone but themselves .

      Reply to Comment

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