Aaron Tuckey on Israel vs Palestine.
Recognising the bizarre fascination amongst students with the Israel-Palestine conflict, I thought it to be very apt, even a pseudo initiation ceremony, to write my first article on this topic. However, my analysis is from a different perspective. Academics, commentators and even the public often fixate upon day to day issues or short term plans. Despite losing a degree of accuracy, I believe that hypothetical situations are necessary for future planning and have been neglected in this situation. I recognise the struggle for peace deserves attention, but later developments are not mutually exclusive in the process.
To make this prediction a few things must be assumed. Firstly, states like Iran will not nuke any of the actors involved; nor will sea levels rise faster than predicted, losing Gaza to the Mediterranean; nor any other ridiculously bizarre game-changer. Secondly, there is a settlement reached. It is in the best interests of all if a separate Palestinian state is created. This has been the master plan from the start and continues to be so, only a few want something different. The Palestinians will not obtain Jerusalem and land swaps will accommodate new Israeli settlements, though nothing will be radically different from the 1967 borders. Considering that it is statistically impossible for an enduring status quo, I argue a settlement will be reached and sooner than many people think.
But what happens next? Israel remains unaltered whilst a new state is built somewhat around it. This would make the Gaza Strip an exclave of the West Bank. What I argue is that an exclave with comparable population and desire for influential power will struggle to maintain its unity, especially when the exclave is not an addition to a pre-existing state; it holds no accessible sea route, or its land access is challenged diplomatically. This is because, in any geographically split country, one state must dominate: there is only ever one central authority. Exclaves (unless a banana republic-like outpost) often already exhibit independent state qualities and, if unjustifiably subjugated, would further question their unity.
To predict the future it always helps to reflect upon the past. India and Pakistan provide a pertinent example. After independence from the United Kingdom led to the fracturing of the subcontinent, modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh thought it would be a workable idea to remain integrated. United in opposition against the Hindu majority state, they fought several wars and had ongoing border skirmishes with India. However, as remnants of the Partition and war of 1947 subsided, internal dynamics set the stage. With a camaraderie based on defiance against India, yet fractured by the tyranny of distance, an unbalanced power dynamic developed, unjustified under a ‘democratic’ system that had comparable population in each state. As military power and budgetary expenditure was further concentrated in West Pakistan, East Pakistan sought independence twenty-four years after Pakistan’s creation, and a civil war ensued. Whilst 1500 kilometres of separation is a huge difference in comparison to 35km, it is unwise to suggest Palestine does not exhibit elements of a scaled model of former Pakistan, as it similarly has roughly equal populations in each state. It has already expressed greater power dynamic issues by electing bitter rival parties in each state, and will be created through opposition to Israel. Furthermore, the diminished tyranny of distance makes little difference, considering the number of checkpoints any traveller currently has to go through to traverse Israel, unless the struggling Palestinian economy can muster up the resources to build the world’s longest road tunnel.
Former Pakistan is not the only, or best, example of a non contiguous state, but it is highly relevant considering East Pakistan’s non compliance with the inequitable power dynamic split countries must adopt (which the Gaza Strip already shows signs of doing). Alaska in the USA, Kaliningrad Oblast in Russia and Cabinda in Angola exhibit similar power dynamics. However, this is not an issue for these states, as they lack the ambition to dominate the rest of the nation and they do not possess the relative population to support any such move, or fight for independence if their wishes aren’t fulfilled. All these states and their exclaves have an easily accessible sea route and are not obstructed overland by as serious tensions (if any) with bordering states, as Palestine would. Contrasting furthermore, Alaska was a purchased addition to a pre-existing state, semi-colonised by the USA; Kaliningrad Oblast was a Soviet Outpost as the Eastern Bloc disintegrated, in no way resembling the simultaneous nature in which Pakistan was (and Palestine will be) created alongside their exclaves. Rather, in these other examples, the states involved knew where the prior concentration of power lay and understood their deference to it from the beginning.
Closer to the point of interest and at the height of Pan-Arab Nationalism is the United Arab Republic. Exploiting Pan-Arab sentiment to quash Syrian communist movements, a proposition to merge with Egypt to create the UAR in 1958 was accepted by Egyptian President, Nasser. Despite the less equal population in each state, Egypt and Syria, doubtlessly did not want to sacrifice power being pre-established states. As Nasser prioritised his agenda and Syrian officials found it harder to reach higher positions in public office, the state fell apart in 1961. Considering that this republic rose and fell at a high point in Anti-Israel sentiment and Pan-Arab nationalism, it would have stood no chance in times of peace.
Recalling that the West Bank elected a party that participates in peace negotiations with Israel and recognises its neighbour’s right to exist (unlike the ruling party in the Gaza Strip) I believe that there is hope for the West Bank, and even a possible chance that it will gain independence separately to the Gaza Strip. Those who know this region’s history would understand an additional cleavage between these ‘united’ territories is embedded in their first twenty years of existence, when they were separately occupied by Egypt (Gaza Strip) and Jordan (West Bank). If a united Palestine is created, for all the above reasons, I believe it will be unstable and fracture at some point in its early history. This logic would imply that a three state solution might result. However, taking into account Gaza’s economic and political circumstances, I think a two-and-a-half state solution may be more likely.
Gaza is now an aid dependent economy, with double the unemployment rate and poverty levels of the West Bank (which are still high). Its denser population (that is better suited to a service industry economy) with minimal arable land makes it more difficult to rebuild from the bottom up. On the other hand, the West Bank has witnessed increasing tourism in places like Bethlehem and Jericho, greater foreign investment and does not suffer from the same overpopulation. Meanwhile, the Gazan government continues to invest heavily in military expenditure to fight a war with Israel that it can never win, rather than investing in solving its internal crises. Hamas also rejects a proposed deal with Israel to stop firing rockets into Israel and recognise its right to exist, in return for lifting the economically-crippling blockade on the strip. Due to Gaza’s (naturally) unfortunate economic conditions compounded by its ongoing political choices, an independent Gaza would perhaps exhibit the traits of a failed state. However, recognising the legitimacy problems such a government faces, would it not just be easier to shift the blame onto Israel who, under the Hamas leadership, is perceived to have caused all the problems when it came into existence in May 1948? How would the government, the public and, most importantly, militia groups react if this is the verdict within Gaza? Is this any different to the current situation in Gaza? For these reasons I don’t see the situation in Gaza improving.
My hypothetical situation is this: either a united Palestine or solely the West Bank gains independence. In either situation the West Bank and Gaza Strip are separate entities in the early years of this proposed scenario. As an effect, Gaza remains a failed state that is either propped up by the UN, Egypt or Israel, and possibly continues its hostile agenda.
This is the potential two-and-a-half state solution. I believe there is much hope for the West Bank but not for a united Palestine and certainly not for Gaza. Stability for the region is not just a peace agreement with Israel, and it is naive to think anything other than this, bearing in mind the internal disputes we have already witnessed in the Palestinian territories.
Just like unity in opposition is stronger than unity in government, unity in war is greater than unity in peace.