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What would a 'safe passage' between W. Bank, Gaza look like?

In June 2010, the AIX Group published a series of noteworthy position papers on the two-state solution. At a time when restrictions on access between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are becoming ever more entrenched, AIX researchers made an attempt to look into the future to see how access might be realized. The result: a long position paper (PDF) which details a number of possibilities for a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank that thoroughly addresses security, environmental and statutory considerations.

Dr. Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords and a member of the AIX Steering Committee, told Gisha: “In the Oslo Accords, Israel recognized that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are a single territorial unit, and therefore there must be a link between them.” Dr. Pundak said that “the minute Palestinians have to travel through Israel to get from Gaza to the West Bank, you have a system that makes things difficult for all parties. There are security problems, and trade becomes more restricted and less competitive. This is why we preferred to plan a closed route that would be designated exclusively for Palestinian use and would be under Palestinian responsibility.”

The absence of a “safe passage” is by no means the only reason for the restrictions on travel between Gaza and the West Bank – Israel forbids passage even when Palestinians seek to access the West Bank from Gaza via Jordan, without entering Israel at all. A “safe passage” could facilitate travel.

AIX brings together senior researchers, individuals who have participated in negotiations and people experienced in Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s economic institutions with the aim of analyzing the economic aspects of a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The cost of the territorial link between Gaza and the West Bank has also been considered. AIX estimates that the project would cost about $700 million, in addition to $180 million for security arrangements.

Of a number of alternatives examined, AIX recommended Route 33 – to create a new overland road and railway between the Karni crossing and the Al-Majid crossing: “The construction of a tunnel or a bridge is not feasible, and the use of a monorail or a train alone will not satisfy the core interests of the Palestinians,” the position paper states.

What happens when this route intersects with Israeli roads?

“There is an appropriate engineering solution for every location. We can build a bypass, tunnel or any other solution allowing for travel. We tried to find a route for the link that minimizes friction as much as possible.”

Restrictions on movement between Gaza and the West Bank, which have intensified over the past two decades, exact a heavy price: Palestinians living in Gaza are unable to see family members in the West Bank; commercial ties between Gaza and the West Bank have been severed, with especially detrimental consequences for those living in Gaza; and students from Gaza are prevented from accessing universities in the West Bank. However, even today, each month, there are 4,000 exits of Palestinians from Gaza via the Erez Crossing into Israel, meaning that even in the current security and political situation, travel between Gaza and the West Bank is possible, with or without a separate designated route.

A map of the routes that AIX considered. The route chosen was route number 3.

‘Not Immune to Risk’

Dr. Pundak admits that the route is not “immune to risk,” but adds, “We believe that in every solution Israel has created for itself over the years, it left a certain margin of security risk. The question is how to create appropriate monitoring in order to reduce the risks as much as possible. The route we are talking about was planned such that it would be far away from existing Israeli communities, and it would be built in a manner that does not allow traveling off the road and onto the Israeli road system. However, monitoring and safety controls are essential if this solution is to work.”

According to Dr. Pundak, “This project has three angles: the architectural-environmental angle, the angle related to planning the chosen route and the political-diplomatic angle. We preferred a route that takes account of the existing topography.” Route 33 does weigh factors such as the length of the route in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Israel, compatibility with engineering and planning criteria, security considerations, engineering feasibility, compatibility with existing building plans and environmental concerns. In fact, says Pundak, “construction on this route could start tomorrow, instead of waiting twenty years for an agreement.”

Have you suggested this route to the government?

“The previous government, the Olmert government, had begun considering these issues. I am not aware of the subject arising in the Netanyahu government. The reason we want to push this is that we believe that planning should be done today, yesterday, last week – before any other Israeli activity takes place in the area – like building additional communities and roads which would increase the cost of the project and make its implementation more difficult. On the other hand, as stated, this is one of the advantages of this solution – it can be implemented immediately.”

This post was originally published on Gaza Gateway, a site created by Gisha. Gisha is an Israeli non-profit organization founded in 2005 whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents. Gisha promotes rights guaranteed by international and Israeli law.

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    1. noam

      “thinking out of the box”, about a one-state reality at this point in time will take too long to plan and will only cause more violence and oppression on the short and long terms. as bleak as the prospect for 2 states is, it’s the only way out of the occupation that seems, at least theoretically, still possible. no matter how much evacuations this will cost israel.

      may we see this road being built and a two state peace becoming a reality. the sooner the better. inshallah.

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    2. Rodrigo

      That ‘preferred’ route runs next to my aunt’s house in an undisclosed location in the Merhavim Regional Council. I call NIMBY on her behalf. I personally would prefer not to endanger her or any of her cats.

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    3. XYZ

      Some years ago, Deborah Sontag in the New York Times reported (at the time Barak was PM and started operating the “safe passage” for a short period) that West Bank Arab strongly oppose the operation of a safe passage route. They view the Gaza Palestnians as aliens (they have a very distinctive Egyptian accent) and a threat to their society since they have a different culture and would be willing to work for lower wages. She reported hearing a group of Arabs in Ramallah telling a group of Gazans visiting the town to “go back where they come from”. Thus, keeping the safe-passage route closed is viewed as a PALESTINIAN interest.
      This is also another indication that the Palestinians would never agree to having a “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees to a potential independent state on the West Bank..they would also be viewed as aliens disrupting the social balance of the West Bank.

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      I like how the discussion of “risk” is always all about risk to the Israelis. When it’s obvious that the real risk is to the Palestinians attempting to use the passage, with which Israel will certainly interfere.

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    5. Rodrigo

      Aresteides, excellent, in that case we can agree that in order to avoid risk to both Israelis and the Palestinians there should be no safe passage.

      The reason why the ‘risk’ is considered from the Israeli point of view is because they would be the ones changing the status quo to a less safe option by allowing the operation of a road through their territory. For the Israelis and especially for my aunt’s cats, the lack of a safe passage is clearly the safer option.

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    6. I suggest a new system: build roads for Jews only and roads for non-Jews. It already exists in the West Bank so we can just extend the system throughout Israel. The roads for non-Jews will be surrounded by walls and remote controlled machine guns for the security of the Jews. In a city like Nablus where Jews live next to non-Jews, we can have separate sidewalks and tunnels for Jews and non-Jews. If Jews happen to live in the same building as non-Jews, we can have separate elevators and separate entrances, where the non-Jews elevators are equipped with CCTV and a floor that can drop out by remote control, therefore removing the security risk to Jews in case a threat is detected by the operators.

      It’s a fantastic system, perfect for the Zionist ideals of separating Jews and non-Jews and preventing any contact between Jews and non-Jews so that the Jewish race will be saved for all eternity, safe from non-Jews natural hostility. This will be the Pax Zionista.

      Reply to Comment
    7. sh

      Recently I read about a Paris architect who developed a utopian 37 km bridge, five storeys high, that he presented in Bethlehem.
      “The plan, made public for the first time in the pages of Haaretz, is for a bridge that would rise to a height of 20 meters above the ground, with steel or concrete columns at 250-meter intervals. The bottom story is designated for desalinated water; the two next stories are for vehicle traffic; above them, another waterway brings salt water from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, topped by a story with two-way railroad tracks.”
      There’s a photo of it here: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/bridging-the-gap-between-the-west-bank-and-gaza-with-a-dream-1.418096

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      Rodrigo – I have a better idea. Repartition the country and move all your aunts and cats into Gaza. The Palestinians will then have a contiguous country and a safe passage won’t be necessary.

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    9. ya3cov

      XYZ, you are living in a fantasy world, and to me it’s quite hilarious.

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    10. RichardL

      Oh dear! In some uncited newspaper article XYZ has read a non-empirical report that Gazans are not liked by West Bankers, all justified by overhearing a group of the latter telling some of the former to go back from whence they came. From this he/she has deduced that denying Palestinians their human rights to travel is doing them a favour, and that Palestinians “would never agree” to refugees being returned to the West Bank.

      If these rumours backed by Rodrigo’s concerns for his aunt’s cats are the only justifications for denying Palestinians their human right to travel then Dr Pundak is right to push for a start tomorrow. Unfortunately Messrs Netanyahu and Lieberman will no doubt have some even more illogical and obscure reason for denying such an initiative for peace and prosperity not only for Palestine but for the region.

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    11. XYZ

      I quoted the article because the New York Times is not particularly friendly to Israel and is supportive of the Palestinians. If they report on a situation which is not the official propaganda line (bad Israelis, innocent, saintly Palestinians) it is worth noting.
      It should also be pointed out the idea of the Palestinian refugees “returning to the West Bank” (a place few if any of them are native to) is an Israeli Leftist idea, the Palestinians reject it in their negotiations, so this is not my idea.

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    12. sh

      “Palestinian refugees “returning to the West Bank” (a place few if any of them are native to) ”
      XYZ, you won’t mind anyone pointing out that more and more Gazans will be native to the West Bank if Israel continues with its practice of dumping West Bankers it doesn’t want in Gaza. Look what the deal was with Hanaa Shalabi last week.

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    13. phlegmatico

      safe passage from Gaza to Judea/Shomron? How about right after the Norwegians install a safe passage so that the Saami can return to foraging their reindeer herds in a “liberated” Occupied Oslo. That Occupation came first, let’s deal with it first! And let’s not forget to restoring Occupied New York to the Netherlands Crown, that also stands in line before Palestine!

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    14. RichardL

      XYZ : I would suggest that you referred to an article in the NYT in order to claim a dubious and unlikely West Bank opposition to a safe passage between Palestinian territories rather than you “quoted the article […] which is not the official propaganda line”. I would also be interested to know which office or bureaucratic institution is responsible for the “official propaganda line” to which you refer.

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    15. Rodrigo

      Aresteides, Or perhaps the Palestinians can have two countries, each one of them individually contiguous with no bypass road required? 2 is better than 1, right? Besides, Gaza is pretty full and my aunt’s cats need room to roam.

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    16. Rodrigo

      Richardl, how dare you presume that my aunt’s cats are not important?

      I should point out that there is no such thing as a human right to enter or pass through any country, nor is there any inherent right for Palestinians to have a sovereign passage through Israeli territory. The argument that Israel is obligated to provide ‘safe passage’ between Gaza and the West Bank is based on the Oslo agreement, where it is entirely subject to Israeli security considerations and where the passages remains under Israeli control and sovereignty. Considering that Hamas runs Gaza, disallowing safe passage to the West Bank most certainly falls under the aegis of legitimate security concerns. When that changes, perhaps more consideration can be given to Pundak’s plan.

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    17. RichardL

      Rodrigo: Never could understand why pesky cats are important to anyone.

      On a serious note there is not such thing as rights or legality for lots of things that go on the Near East. It is reality that is important. Amongst those realities are the facts that Hamas runs Gaza and Israel is screwing the life blood out of the Strip. There are dividends to peace for all, but the present bunch of Israeli leaders prefer the status quo. Those dividends include the ability of all eastern Mediterranean countries to develop their offshore gas fields, enormous trading opportunities for Israel in the Muslim world under the Saudi Peace Plan (still on the table as far as I am aware) and a warm peace for Israel that would allow its citizens to drive into Europe along with normalization of relations with Turkey and elsewhere. Israel could also reconsider having to waste so much of its young people’s lives with military diversions at the start of adulthood. These opportunities depend on real leaders setting aside excuses such as Hamas runs Gaza and taking real initiatives to promote peace, such as giving serious consideration to Pundak’s plan. It could happen if people wanted it. But at the moment people seem more interested in prattling about diversions such as “legitimate security concerns” while doing everything possible to promote insecurity in the region.

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      • Anthony

        If there were a connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, don’t you think that would make it easier for a stable government to form, rather than radicals being able to seize control of one half? The only reason Hamas is in power is because the two parts are non-contiguous, Fatah could do nothing about it. I realize that one country has no right to passage through another, but a safe passage in the interest of ensuring the creation of sustainable, stable Palestinian government – with the large land area of the West Bank for agriculture and other pursuits, and a port city at Gaza. Without a connection, the West Bank would be landlocked, and Gaza would be the trade hub for nothing but Gaza. There’s not enough land there for agriculture, the population isn’t educated enough for industry and service economies, if they stopped recieving food aid there’d be nothing for them to do but sit there and starve to death. The only reason the population is that large is because Israel drove them off their land in the first place. It’s a huge refugee camp, and can’t naturally support that many people. Yes, I do think that gives Israel some responsibility to remedy the situation, ensure that they can be interconnected so that they can form an integrated, cohesive state where the two parts can complement each other, instead of halving two non-contiguous economically useless halves.

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    18. David


      I suggest you visit the now occupied West Bank and converse with the locals. You would soon find that they view a corridor connecting them to the Gaza Strip with its access to the Med. Sea as a much desired asset. Furthermore, many people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are related. I remind you that about half of the Gaza Strip’s population is originally from Jaffa and environs and their descendants. Israel expelled about 75,000 Palestinians from Jaffa before 15 May 1948 when the state of Israel was declared (as well as about 60,000 from Haifa and 60,000 from West Jerusalem). The fact that Palestinians speak Arabic with an Egyptian accent (due to be administered by Egypt from 1948-67)is of little importance to their fellow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, which of course, includes occupied East Jerusalem and its illegally extended boundaries.

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    19. Rodrigo

      Richardl, clearly you are not a cat person.

      Let’s examine the dividends from peace. Development of offshore gas fields – Israel is doing this anyway. Trading opportunities – the Arab world doesn’t even trade with itself so there are questionable trading opportunities for Israel. A warm peace for Israel – questionable considering there isn’t even a warm peace between Arab countries. Driving into Europe – again questionable considering the general state of collapse of the surrounding states. I doubt Jordanians or Saudis are driving through Syria at the moment. Normalization of relations – this incentive hasn’t been terribly relevant since the early 1990s when Israel normalized relations with Eastern Europe, the CIS and most of Asia. As for the Turks – trade is doing fine, other relations will come around eventually as the Turks find themselves friendless.

      So, basically all the ‘dividends’ are questionable, but the risks are clear. The region is insecure by nature and this is true regardless of Israel’s actions, nor would it change much was peace to be signed with the Palestinians. Wanting peace is not enough. You can’t will the Middle East to be Europe.

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    20. RichardL

      Rodrigo: Wanting peace would certainly be an improvement on the present attitude of the Israeli leadership. And I do not accept your presumption that the region is insecure by nature. Its insecurity is to a large extent because of meddling by outside forces, to which Israel’s actions make a considerable contribution. Yes there was raiding and tribal feuding before the start of the Zionist project but things were otherwise stable. The two main factors preventing stability at the moment are interference by the US and its allies to ensure control of assets of strategic economic value,and Israeli aggression. If Israel was to abide by international law and promote peace initiatives such as the Pundak plan the risks to its population would dramatically decrease. Why is it so difficult to understand that if Israel usurps an ever increasing area of the West Bank while artificially keeping Gazans in destitution (all of which is illegal and unnecessarily inhumane) it cannot expect to live in peace with its neighbours? Every action has a reaction, why do you insist on pretending that it is otherwise?

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    21. phlegmatico

      >>before the start of the Zionist project but things were otherwise stable

      so, to attain your desired stability, TelAviv should go away… it was merely a Zionist project!

      how about if I propose that the Palestinian project should go away first?

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    22. Paul

      Of course, a real peace would make such concepts unnecessary. But a road between West Bank and Gaza, that coud one day be connected to the Israeli road network, would make sense.

      I see route 3 (not ’33’ as in article) passes near to 2 Nature Reserves. Maybe this is not the main issue for people over there, but has there been any preliminary assessment of the environmental impact of the route?

      Finally – Rodrigo, most cats get used to new homes pretty quickly. People uprooted and moved without any choice or compensation tend to be resentful. Even more so if it is done for ethnic cleansing (aka racist) reasons. Which brings us back full circle to why we are discussing this link.

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    23. Rodrigo

      Richardl, in history meddling by external forces is normal for any region and given the resources in the region it would have taken place in the Middle East with or without Israel. Also, no, the region wasn’t stable in the 19th century. There were wars for control between the Ottomans and the Egyptians, as well as local rebellions and massive upheavals that caused the flight of millions of Arabs (especially Christians) to the New World, West Africa, Australia, etc. Additionally, the Arab World is unstable even in place like Libya and Yemen which are far far far away from any Israeli-Arab issues.

      I am not arguing that Israel can’t potentially improve its position via some compromise with the Arabs, but the vision you are trying to sell is an easily debunked mirage. The Middle East is troubled and Israeli actions have minimal impact outside of the narrow confines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until the left abandons its illusions of a happy peaceful and stable Middle East that would follow a peace agreement it has absolutely no chance at proposing any realistic solutions.

      Paul, many people were moved for many reasons in the 1940s and 1950s. All except the Palestinians have moved on to live normal and productive lives and have gotten used to their new surroundings. It usually doesn’t take four generations. Until the Palestinians and their supporters show signs of doing likewise and stop trying to undo history there really is very little reason to take conciliatory actions, including wasting money on a bypass road that can’t be used until some major changes take place among the Palestinians. At the moment that money would be better spent on rocket defense from people whose grandparents were children when they left Israel because their parents tried to destroy the state of Israel in its infancy. I care more about my aunt’s cats.

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      • Anthony

        I don’t give two shits about your aunts cats, personally. I honestly hope they’re dead.

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    24. “Paul, many people were moved for many reasons in the 1940s and 1950s. All except the Palestinians have moved on to live normal and productive lives and have gotten used to their new surroundings. It usually doesn’t take four generations”

      This is such a vague statement as to be totally useless. “Many” people. “Many” reasons. Etc. Sounds like propaganda.

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    25. RichardL

      Rodrigo: I agree with Mrcritic here. The flight of millions of Arabs to the New World, West Africa and Australia in the 19th century is an unrecorded figment of your imagination. Sounds like you have been bitten by a rabid cat.
      Incidentally Libya was attacked by nearly 10,000 NATO strike sorties and Yemen is getting plenty of US attention which includes the use of bombing attacks by predator drones.Do you wonder these areas are unstable?

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