A Vicious Bind
Pity the Gazans. In a lengthy front-page dispatch from Gaza City in today’s Washington Post, Scott Wilson traces the deepening disconnect between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Since the unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza the situation for Gazans has deteriorated from bad to worse. The economic picture Wilson paints is bleak: While overall Palestinian unemployment is at roughly 26 percent, nearly half of Gaza’s population is without work; even those who have jobs have not been paid in full because the government is bankrupt; Gaza’s export industries have also lost a higher proportion of jobs than the West Bank, because of Israel’s frequent closure of the cargo crossing at Karni, which last year was shut entirely or partially for 129 days. (40 Gaza export businesses have reportedly folded since Israel’s withdrawal.)
Part of this despair is of their own doing. Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, reported that Palestinians fired 1,726 crude rockets from Gaza last year — more than four times as many as in 2005. And the streets of Gaza have been repeatedly bloodied by factional violence between Hamas and Abu Mazen’s Fatah, which maintains a much stronger grip on power in the West Bank than in Gaza, where Hamas has the affection and loyalty of the people.
At the core of this dilemma is a nasty double-bind that is illuminated by a quote from Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin: “We have very strong security interests in not allowing strong ties between Gaza and the West Bank. If you open channels between the areas, you will see an increase in terror in the West Bank.” This is no doubt true and explains the imperative behind the security measures Wilson highlights. But what Diskin does not acknowledge is that the implosion of Palestinian peoplehood is a disaster for Israel. This is the crux of the double-bind: while short-term security risks compel the division of Gaza from the West Bank, in so doing Israel further imperils the prospect of ever achieving a two-state solution.
And lets be clear: two-states is the only viable future for Zionism and for Palestinian nationalism. Israeli nationalism necessitates the creation of a Palestinian state as much as Palestinian nationalism does. And vice-versa. As many on the left have long pointed out, the decades-long occupation (the interminable “seventh day” of the Six Day War) is slowly strangling Israel, eroding the legitimacy of Zionism, deteriorating the state’s democratic foundations, and giving rise to new initiatives. The good news is that ranks of those on the absolutist, “Greater Israel” right are thin and thinning. The bad news is that progress is hostage to a vexing dynamic that stymies progress at every turn.
What is to be done? I do not know. But I do know that this double-bind serves no faction’s interests more clearly than that of Hamas, who benefits the most from an Israel continually tied down in the territories.