The Oslo Declaration of Principles (1993) and the Oslo Interim Agreement (1995) took note of the problem of maintaining contact between the two geographical areas of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Declaration envisaged “safe passage” between them on designated routes through the territory of the State of Israel. Annex I of the Agreement contained an elaborate scheme of implementation: each vehicle must have a “safe passage permit” and each Palestinian passenger must have a “safe passage card”; joint Israeli-Palestinian teams would make sure that only acceptable persons could use “safe passage” and that all who left the one area duly arrived at the other; the precise structure of the terminals and their opening hours were defined, etc.
All this quickly came to nothing. This was among the first provisions, and arguably the very first provision, of the Oslo Accords to collapse in practice. Ever since, Palestinians have had to pass through at least two Arab countries, obtaining all the necessary permits, to get from the one area to the other. As Aaron Tuckey recently noted (March 13, 2012): while there are several states with an exclave (like the US’s Alaska), communication between Gaza and the West Bank is unusually problematic.
Later proposals included a dedicated fenced highway, a railway, even a tunnel. The problem, of course, was how to enable communication between the two areas without creating opportunities for Palestinian terrorism. That problem has only grown since. Letting the two areas go their own separate ways would greatly reduce the threat to Israel’s security in any future Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
In the meantime, the incommunicability between Gaza and the West Bank has also become convenient to the Palestinians, at least to the two main players – Hamas and Fatah. After Hamas won the 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), it briefly headed a coalition government with Fatah. In 2007 armed clashes between the two led to a Hamas dictatorship in Gaza and a Fatah dictatorship in the West Bank; the PLC has not met since that year. “Dictatorship” is the correct description: the terms of office of both the PLC and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, have long run out. The two areas are being ruled by unelected individuals via their respective security apparati.
Various agreements have been made between Hamas and Fatah to hold fresh elections and reunite the two areas, committees have been set up to implement the agreements, but it all gets nowhere. Hamas continues to detain and harass Fatah members and to punish pro-Fatah journalists, while Fatah does the reverse in the West Bank.
One of the committees is supposed to arrange the release of the mutual detainees. It has achieved nothing. Rather, there are constantly new detainees. It would be simpler to transfer all the pro-Fatah detainees and activists from Gaza to the West Bank in exchange for a transfer of Hamas people in the opposite direction.
Another committee, also getting nowhere, was charged with creating the apparatus for joint elections. It is still arguing about whether and how to update the register of voters. If they need a show of democracy, it would be simpler to elect separate governing councils in the two areas.
The Palestinian ministries, to the extent that they do any useful work, already operate separately in Gaza and the West Bank. After 2007, the Hamas and Fatah appointees to the coalition government morphed into the de facto governments in the respective areas.
The only remaining connection is that the Fatah government in Ramallah still pays salaries of its former officials in Gaza, regardless of whether they are now doing any work there. At the same time, the Fatah government claims that it is facing a desperate financial crisis. If Fatah ended those useless payments to Gaza, the crisis would be much relieved. Any shortfall in Gaza’s own budget would doubtless be made up by its Islamist friends elsewhere.
For Gaza to go its own way is the easier part. The West Bank and Israel are so much more closely intertwined that here the solution, too, must be complex.
So why has nobody seen all this before, if a permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank is so obviously the way to go? As a matter of fact, isolated commentators have thrown up this suggestion in the past. Since the beginning of 2012, their number has been growing. They have passed unnoticed for various reasons.