Democracy Arsenal

« Integrated Power and Truman Democrats | Main | A Breakthrough with North Korea? »

July 24, 2005

10 Open Questions On the Gaza Pullout
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

If we're lucky, this summer will be remembered not as the moment the U.S. Supreme Court took a swerve to the right or for the quickening of Iraq's spiral out of control.  It could be known instead as the watershed moment in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the time when Israel proved it was serious about dismantling settlements and allowing a 2-state solution to take hold, and the Palestinians showed they were capable of  controlling, governing and developing truly independent territory.

But the devil is in the details and, 24 days before the actual pullout (which may be expedited to forestall further protests) , lots of unanswered questions remain, questions that may determine whether Israeli withdrawal from Gaza turns out to be a major step forward or a backward stumble for the peace process.  Here are some of the most important unanswered questions:

1.  Will the actual withdrawal date proceed smoothly? - No one expected the Gaza pullout to be clean.   Die-hard protests by furious settlers, violent outbreaks and mutual frustration were inevitable.  With the killing of two innocent motorists and an attempted suicide bomb, the situation is becoming explosive.  Rumor is that Israel will expedite the pullout to avoid further escalation (as was done with the end of the US occupation in Iraq - - it seemed to help, but only very, very briefly).  If violence boils over and Israel cracks down (in an operation already planned and labeled "Iron Fist"), the pullout has the potential to become a fiasco before it is even completed.   Sinai in 1982 offers the benchmark for a painful, but largely peaceful, withdrawal.

2. Will the Palestinians be able to maintain security in Gaza post-withdrawal? This is the linchpin.  If Gaza is relatively stable and turns out to be a decent neighbor to Israel, the political weight in the Jewish state will shift inexorably toward favoring a final settlement and substantial disengagement from the West Bank.  If not, not.  Mohammed Dahlan, this is your hour.  If you can keep Gaza quiet (without trampling rights in a way that undercuts the Palestinian State's long-term stability), you will deserve a Nobel.

3.  Will Egypt do its part to keep arms from flowing into Gaza - Just last night Israel struck a preliminary agreement, long in the making, with the Egyptian government over the control of the Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza.  Some 750 Egyptian border policemen will patrol the area, necessitating an amendment to the Camp David agreement.  Egypt will also be responsible for intelligence-gathering in Sinai.  After this weekend's carnage at Sharm el Sheikh, one hopes Egypt views tight border control, good intelligence, and a stringent arms crackdown as matters of straightforward self-interest.

4.  Will Hamas take over Gaza?  Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority has only a tenuous hold over Gaza.  Just days ago PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan accused the group of plotting a coup.  Hamas, through its social-service minded style of politics, has been making strides at the polls in Gaza.  If Hamas, with its active military wing, takes over, the U.S. will be confronted with whether to continue to boycott a terrorist organization.   In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian relationships, all bets are off in this scenario.

5.  Will the Palestinians be able to keep Gaza economically viable? - This World Bank report details why disengagement in itself may mean precious little to the moribund Palestinian economy.  While Israeli farmers were prosperous in Gaza, for Palestinians to simply pick up where they have left off will pose challenges.  For one thing, the renowned Gush Katif greenhouses, employer to 600 Israelis and 1200 Palestinians, are being dismantled and relocated near Ashkelon.  To be healthy, a Gaza economy will depend on careful husbanding of the territory's agricultural resources, open access to markets, and generous foreign aid, none of which is guaranteed.

6.  How will goods flow from Gaza into Israel? - To thrive, Palestinian farmers in Gaza there will need ways of swiftly transiting produce into Israel for sale and shipment overseas.  If every car and truck were to be stopped and searched for weapons, the citrus and vegetables would rot in the heat.  But the parties have yet to hammer out a formula for this common customs envelope to encase the two territories.  Maybe the answer lies in an airport-style "Fastlane" - regularly pre-checking and validating certain producers and drivers who become eligible for swifter passage at the border.  One of the big debates is whether Israel will trust a reputable 3d party to do this sensitive job.

7.  Will true freedom of movement for people be possible - A ready flow of labor from Gaza into Israel will be essential for the territory to avoid isolation and economic ruin.  Thousands of Gaza residents commute daily into Israel for jobs.   With Israel in control of Gaza, border closures were routine.  Unless the security situation improves dramatically, this is likely to continue.

8.  How will people and goods transit between Gaza and the West Bank? - One of the most awkward elements of any conceivable peace settlement is the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous, and the only route between the two cuts through 40km of Israel.  For the Palestinians to build a viable polity and economy, passage needs to be made simple.  The World Bank has proposed a kind of desert chunnel - - an sunken road linking the two.   Rail link is another option. 

9.  How quickly can Gaza's airport and seaport be reopened? - No matter how optimistic one is about the post-withdrawal period, there's no getting around the fact that security considerations were a key driver behind Israel's desire to withdraw from the combustible Strip.  So leaving the Palestinian economy fully dependent on open borders is a recipe for ruin.  Israel has approved the reopening of sea and airports.  While the airport should be up and running more quickly, the seaport is projected to take years to get started.

10.  What happens next?  Assuming the pullout is less than disastrous, what's next?  Do Sharon and Abbas continue to lead their respective peoples forward, implementing the road map to a two-state solution (or something close to it)?  Is Sharon really - as some accuse - using Gaza simply as a way to tighten Israel's hold on the the West Bank?  Are the Palestinian terrorist factions kept sufficiently in check to enable progress?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference 10 Open Questions On the Gaza Pullout:


Great list. Has the World Bank or similar organization completed a study on the viability of Gaza-West Bank as an independent state? Much like Pakistan until 1971, Palestine will be split from the outset, encompassing a country with which it already has a violent past and tense relations. This presents a serious security problem for both states, but particularly for the new Palestine. The PA's successor will have to do an exceedingly good job of ensuring that the interests of the two sections do not clash too often or have one part defect from the other. Unlike Pakistan, Palestine will be much more homogenous in terms of ethnicity, but coastal Gaza and land-bound West Bank may end up with highly divergent interests after the honeymoon of independence dies out.

In addition, as you say, the connection between Gaza and the West Bank will be crucial for Palestine, yet Israel will have complete control over whatever method of transportation is chosen. Even if Israel was to give up full sovereignty over the transit line (treating it legally as some land equivalent of a strait), the connection can still be cut rather easily and can be "held hostage" at any time should an independent Palestine pose a serious threat to Israeli security. This inherent vulnerability/weakness could serve to boost Israel's confidence in, or at least tolerance of, an independent Palestine, as long as both sides play it very cool. The Palestinian government will have to be particularly wary of any groups that would endorse violence in order to secure greater control over this lifeline between Gaza and the West Bank.

The feasibility of an independent Palestine depends on how well both economic and security challenges can be resolved. I definitely don't know enough of either, but as for security, I feel like this particular issue will take decades to address, assuming sufficient international engagement. As you suggest with your tenth question, will the Gaza pull-out be the first step in a sustained confidence-building campaign? Will it generate enough interest within both parties to the conflict to move beyond Gaza in the first place? It's not going to do for this conflict what Sadat's visit to Jerusalem did for the Egypt-Israel relationship, i.e. a move that will allow the parties to jumpstart the conflict management and/or resolution process. Hopefully, any momentum achieved by either Israel or Palestine in moving forward towards a resolution will not be wasted because major actors (regional and international) are too disengaged to have a long-term strategy in place.

Why shouldn't the Palestinians have weapons to resist the Israeli occupation?

Will the United States stop providing support to the Israeli gov't in perpetuating the occupation?

Are you serious? There isn't any "peace process". Israel doesn't even consider itself even being in the first stage of the road map. It is still expanding settlements in the West Bank and expropriating Palestinian land for the wall.

Israel is the far more powerful party and the occupying power - yet you put the onus of responsibility for the success of the "withdrawal" on the Palestinians.

Seigman nails it. There isn't going to be a Palestinian State - maybe a series of bantustans. Its not going to fly. Stay tuned for Intifada 111.

If Israel isn't working toward peace--peace in the U.S. national interest--why should the United States lift a finger to protect Israel from the consequences of its actions?

The wisest position for Israel to take in its own interest, I think, is to utterly close the Gaza border with Israel after the withdrawal. Do not let anyone or anything in or out across the Gaza-Israel border. Gaza will have a land route out through Sinai, and eventually a sea and air route as well. Effectively, this is Israel renouncing sovereignty in every sense; they may as well, given the history and possibilities, renounce connectivity as well.

This could go a couple of different ways. If the Palestinians are smart enough or wise enough (hardly a given in either case), they will use the time to stop the attacks on Israel from Gaza (while continuing them from the West Bank), to show that it's only the occupation, after all, that stands between them and Israel. In that case, there could be an eventual opening with Israel, and perhaps the creation of a more viable state. Worst case, the Egyptians could take the area back (it was, after all, theirs until Israel captured it in 1967), and provide a measure of hope for the future.

More likely, terror attacks would continue - even intensify. In that case, Israel would be fully within its rights to simply start shelling the areas from which attacks come, all while not taking the same kind of action in the West Bank. This is simple self defense. If the attacks get to be too much, Israel could drive the Gazans out of Gaza into the Sinai - an outcome nobody really wants, and that Israel is unlikely to pursue without serious provocation, similar to what Israel faced in 1967. In any case, Israel could easily argue, particularly if it is very careful in its response, continuing to target only terrorist leaders and launch sites, that it is now the victim of unprovoked Palestinian attacks from Gaza, and could demand UN intervention and peacekeeping forces.

Any outcome of closing the border completely is better for Israel than the current situation, or than keeping the border open. It sucks for the Palestinians, but that elicits no sympathy from me: if you are suicidal as a people, having a bad economy is a better lot than getting your desires fulfilled.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the Gaza pullout and the Palestinian reaction both serve internal purposes more than external ones. The Gaza pullout can be seen as the direct confrontation with the settler movement that has been brewing since, well, 1967. This is an Israeli showdown between, if you like, the State of Israel and the Land of Israel, with Sharon ironically on the side of the State.
Likewise, the recent missile attacks on Israel by Hamas can be seen as a challenge to Abu Mazen and the PA over eventual control of Gaza and Palestine.
Any "solution", I'm afraid, requires that the two sides get through their respective internal conflicts in one piece.

After Israeli settlers and forces leave Gaza, it still will be considered Israeli occupied territory because Israel will control border crossings, air space, sea access, etc.

According to the latest State Dept. figures Arabs ALREADY outnumber Jews, in the area from the Med. sea to the Jordan River.

As Israel continues to expand in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Palestinians should begin to agitate for the vote. The one-state solution is the only solution that brings equality two both peoples. The choice for Israel is democracy or apartheid.

After Israeli settlers and forces leave Gaza, it still will be considered Israeli occupied territory because Israel will control border crossings, air space, sea access, etc.

Newspaper by China printing is very good quality and good prices.
Plastic products made by plastic injection molding services with low costs and supeior quality
Shoring scaffolding for construction is a very useful tool.

Thank you for your sharing.! seslichat seslisohbet

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use