I've noted in the last few months that an idea I floated back in August 2010 on this blog has begun to gain coverage in a number of quarters. Little has changed since then, with the exception of the current impasse in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but in view of the current situation on the ground in Israel and Gaza I still feel that my gut feeling then was not so far from the mark.
I hope you'll take a few moments to read on and consider my suggestion of nearly four years ago.
Time for a three-state solution? 08/12/2010
I've been away on holiday in England for the past few weeks and have only occasionally been tapping into the wealth of news coverage that focuses on the Middle East, and on Israel, in particular.
In my case however, out of sight has certainly not been out of mind, and following the death of the Israeli soldiers close to the northern border with Lebanon from Hizbollah shelling, and the missiles fired out of Gaza to Ashkelon, (not to mention those that appear to have emanated from Sinai and landed both close to Eilat and in Aqaba in Jordan), I've been toying with the idea that something radical needs to be done to change the state of play at the moment.
It seems to me that there is no doubt that an increase in the marginalization of the Hamas regime in Gaza can only help to serve Israel's interest. Looking back to 2005 when the decision to unilaterally withdraw from the territory was taken by the government of Ariel Sharon, I was amongst the many people who were enthusiastic at the prospect of the Palestinian people in Gaza being given the chance to prove that they really just wanted to live a life of peace, earn enough to keep a roof over their head and food on the table, and go about life in much the same manner as the rest of the people of the region, and indeed across the world.
How demoralizing then it was when, given 'relatively' free elections, they voted in the one party who placed the destruction of the State of Israel and the driving out of Jews from the region as their top priority. When Hamas came to power they moved swiftly to eliminate as many supporters of their secular rival Fatah from the Strip as possible, human rights groups confirming mass executions, widespread maiming, and the intimidation of anyone who didn't share their radical, violent agenda. Fatah were all but eliminated from the territory and the free elections the international community had encouraged only served to usher in a tyrannical and destabilizing presence in the region, a group funded and supported in many ways by Iran.
The Gaza War that inevitably followed as a result of the thousands of missiles launched by Hamas into southern Israel following their ascent to power, highlighted the danger that Hamas poses, not only Israel, but to Egypt as well. Interestingly, whilst Israel sought neutralize the threat posed by the Hamas missiles, Fatah, the party that governs the West Bank, remained conspicuously silent. For them, (although not prepared to admit it publicly for fear of incurring the wrath of the Arab world), Israel was doing their dirty work, weakening their Palestinian opposition. I would not be in the least bit surprised to learn one day that Fatah's internal security services had offered some support to Israel's effort to diminish Hamas' effectiveness in Gaza.
The fact is that whilst the people of Gaza have been driven into poverty by the actions of their own terrorist government, the Palestinians in the West Bank have seen a marked change in their fortunes over the last few years. With security and commercial agreements with Israel appearing to be holding up well on the whole, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, (despite widespread allegations of corruption), has overseen a significant improvement in the standard of living and quality of life of its citizens. Businesses are flourishing in Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho, average wages have soared and their economy is growing at a reported 10% per year at a time when much of the world is still teetering on the brink of recession.
Although in public the peace process appears to be gaining little ground, there have been a number of indications that suggest that behind the scenes some progress is being made as both Israel and the PA grudgingly realize that they are going to have to work with one another, like it or not.
Surely, the average Palestinian living in Gaza, talking regularly by phone to his cousins in Ramallah and hearing about the flourishing economy and much improved standard of living, would be bound to wonder to himself how much better life might be for him if Hamas were no longer in a position to rule his life. He shouldn’t have voted for them, he should distance himself from their ideals and seek to find a way to support Fatah and undermine those in power.
Such is Hamas' grip on Gaza though that any dissent is very dangerous. Aside of Israel returning to the territory, (a military option that would cost many lives on both sides, enrage much of the Arab word – though not all - and return the Jewish state to a status quo they were happy to rid themselves of five years ago), a popular uprising seems the only logical way that Hamas might be removed from power.
By way of encouraging such a happening, I suggest that serious consideration should be given to Israel making peace with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a scenario that is not very far from the current situation on the ground. Israel would receive significant positive reaction from around the world, the PA would gain more credibility, Hamas would become further marginalized and Israel would be shown to be genuine in wanting to secure a deal with a real partner for peace.
None of this would be easy, but nothing in our part of the world is easy. The situation in Gaza poses a massive threat to Israel's security and to the stability of the region. Hamas must be removed from power, and it might just be that following the old adage of 'divide and rule', by genuinely forging a peace deal with Fatah, Israel can retake the intiative and set a positive agenda in the region.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.