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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Israel/Palestine

8 Comments on “A Vicious Bind”


  1. […] 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 say is that the implosion of Palestinian peoplehood is a disaster for Israel. This is the crux of the 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. Two-states is the only viable future for Zionism. Israelis need the creation of a Palestinian state as much as the Palestinians do. 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. This double-bind serves no faction s interests more clearly than that of Hamas, who benefit the most from an Israel continually tied down in the territories. […]


  2. “But what Diskin does not acknowledge is that the implosion of Palestinian peoplehood is a disaster for Israel.”

    I would posit that the opposite is true. The Palestinian Problem depends on the notion of a Palestinian people/nation.

    If there are no Palestinians, per se, and rather a bunch of Arabs who live (or had ancestors who lived) between the Jordan River and Sinai, their grievances would be deprived of the disproportionate attention they now receive, and terrorists would be viewed as violent sociopaths, rather than heroic defenders of their people.

  3. Evan Says:

    That the Palestinian cause receives disproportionate attention is undeniable. But you analysis is both facile and callous. We need not dig up the memory of Joan Peters to simply say that whether Palestinian nationalism is contrived and inauthentic (whatever that means when it comes to nationalism) it is a necessary reality at this point. Without Palestinian nationalism there is no Palestinian State. And the lack of a Palestinian State places the viability of a Jewish State in peril. Hamas (and other elements of the rejectionist plank of the Arab world) knows this, which is why always surge their terrorism when there is the slightest glimmer of hope that progress will be achieved, whenever the idea of a partition between the two peoples is solidified in the collective imagination. Israel, a Jewish democratic State, will find it increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to rule over a hostile population of the size of the Palestinians in the territories. The democratic anchor of Jewish nationalism is acutely threatened by the current dyamic of gridlock. It is an axiom of politics that gridlock always benfefits the hard liners, the rejectionists, the enemies of compromise.

    The argument that there is no such thing as the Palestinians is about three decades past its sell by date. It is a reality – right or wrong. And it behooves us to address it as such. (Questioning the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism is about as legitimate in my eyes as questioning the validity of Jewish self-determination.)


  4. Callous, yes.

    Facile, no.

    I believe we’re discussing two related issues here: the consequences for Israel of an end to the concept of Palestinan peoplehood and the likelihood of that happening.

    I would absolutely love it if there were a Palestinian state that wasn’t hell-bent on Israel’s destruction. Even a cold, bitter, propped-up-by-US-aid “peace” like that with Egypt would a a wonderful success.

    But, pardon my cynicism, this is a group that voted Hamas — Hamas! — into power and is only getting more religious, more extremist and more fanatically devoted to the destruction of their neighbor.

    If Palestinians are almost unanimously hostile to Israel’s existence, a conclusion I’m finding inevitable, doesn’t it make sense that Israel would do better against enemies which are not well-organized and coherent?

    And I’m not saying that Palestinian nationhood (nor Israeli) is any more or less authentic than any other nationalism; they are all constructs of their time.

    Would Gazans, prior to 1948, have considered themselves more akin to Arabs in Bethlehem than to their neighbors in Sinai?

    Some nationalisms last longer than others, but they all have beginnings (such as when smaller states merged to form the very real nation of Germany and Italy) and ends (do any people call themselves Soviets or Yugoslavians any more?).

    There is plenty of speculation about the end of Zionism — due, variously, to the rift between religious and secular Jews, the growing schism between Israel and the Diaspora, the demographic time bomb of Israeli Arab population growth, the loss of that pioneering spirit, or the annihliation at the hands of a nuclear Iran.

    I don’t forsee this happening any time soon, but the end of Zionism is a possibility. In a long enough timeframe, it is an inevitability.

    Similarly, I could see Palestinian geographic, political, tribal, religious and cultural unity coming to an end for its own set of reasons.

    So, I didn’t think Hasdai’s speculation was implausible; I just disagreed with his assessment of it.

    Palestinian peoplehood can be fractured by current events. And if that were to happen, I don’t think it would be a catastrophe for Israel.


  5. I should also add the disclaimer that I don’t want to see an end to Palestinian *people*.

    It’s just that, as long as 90+% of them are in favor of suicide bombing Israeli citizens, I’d rather see them weilding less power.

  6. HW Says:

    My speculation? I don’t recall any speculation.

    I think we’re confusing terms here. We’re not witnessing an implosion of Palestinian peoplehood. The Palestinians busy killing each other all consider themselves Palestinians. They even consider the people they’re killing Palestinians, albeit treacherous or rival ones. Palestinian national identity is alive and well (not to mention thriving on death – which has become an essential part of that identity).

    What’s clear is that Palestinians have no internal solidarity – no consensus on who should rule, on the limits of political violence. The question is whether the chaos and violence resulting from that power and legitimacy vacuum are a bad thing for Israel. I’d argue that they are at worst neutral. As long as Palestinians are killing each other and descending into chaos they won’t be as efficient in murdering Israelis. Ending the fighting by some artificial or external means won’t resolve the underlying lack of consensus. It’s only when consensus is reached that the violence will end. That consensus could involve a resolution to compromise with Israel or it could involve a renewed resolution to destroy it. Until the Palestinians decide, there’s little point in interfering.

    Cutting Gaza off from the West Bank makes no difference to the ability of Palestinians to reconcile with each other or reach a consensus. The political leaders and factions could come to an agreement anytime they want. But they don’t want; they’d rather fight.

    I agree with Evan that there will be no ultimate resolution to the Palestinian problem without the Palestinians agreeing to a two-state solution, foreswearing all historical and future claims. But I’m skeptical of this happening anytime soon. It would require a complete redefinition of Palestinian identity, which is based in great part on rejection, on eternal struggle, on total redemption of historical humiliation. That didn’t happen during Oslo, and opening up the crossings between Gaza and the West Bank won’t make a jot of difference on that score.

    As for whether Palestinian national identity as a concept can collapse completely, it seems unlikely. Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin counted on this when they expanded the settlement project and they were dead wrong. It doesn’t really matter exactly how Palestinians conceive of their own nationhood – the key issue is that of dispossesion. The Palestinians have nowhere to go and they want redemption – they believe they are a nation of refugees. Their experience as losers, as the humiliated and vanquished, has created their identity, whether it has much ethno-historical legitimacy or not. As long as their status is unresolved, there will be no peace. But they themselves are the key to resolving that status, and they refuse to take any responsibility. The question is what Israel does in the meantime.

  7. Evan Says:

    The question is indeed what Israel does in the meantime. And I would just add that the standard by which to measure what Israel does in the meantime is to ask if it moves matters closer to a two-state solution. More specifically, the question to ask is whether this or that action soldifies the idea of partition or whether it blurs the line. It is imperative that Israel invest and re-invest in ways both big (abandoning settlements that will not and cannot ever be on land that will be Israeli) and small (including the Green Line in school textbooks). Gershom Gorenberg has a very interesting opinion column in the latest issue of Moment magazine in which he presents the debate over the Green Line. His children’s school books do not have the Green Line. Traditionally, the Israeli Education Ministry has sought to blur that line, as have a generation of foolish Israeli leaders. But now – just now! – Yuli Tamir, the current Education Minister, is pushing for the inclusion of the Green Line in textbooks. On the one hand this is progress (though there is considerable pushback). On the other, this episode is a reminder of just how far the prospect of peace probably is (to say nothing of the Palestinian mess, which has been rehashed nicely by both Joe and HW.)

    Link to the Moment essay: http://momentmag.com/Exclusive/2007/2007-02/200702-Gorenberg.html


  8. Ah, how interesting.

    I’ve mostly heard about Palestinian instances of showing all of Israel and the territories as one entity; I didn’t realize that Israeli depiction of the same was so mainstream.


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