In recent months, there’s been a lot of debate about the best answer to the Middle East conflict. The consensus here in the United States is that the answer is a two-state solution that envisages the creation of a Palestinian Arab state alongside the nation state of the Jewish people, i.e. the State of Israel. There are good arguments to be made that such an arrangement would be the ideal conclusion to the century-long war that Arabs have waged to extinguish Zionism. Indeed, should the political culture of the Palestinians ever change to the point where their leaders could count on strong support for a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, there would be no resisting such an outcome.
For now such a scenario remains more a matter of science fiction than political reality. In the meantime, while Israelis await that happy future, they must contend with a Palestinian leadership and terror groups that, unfortunately, continue to better represent the wishes of their people than any pious platitudes about peace that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas utters when in the presence of Western reporters or gullible Israelis.
Even more to the point, the theoretical arguments about a Palestinian state tend to ignore the fact that one currently exists in all but name in Gaza. There, a Hamas government continues its tyrannical Islamist rule over more than a million people with no interference from Israel other than the imposition of a loose blockade on the strip (food, medicine, and other essential items enter it daily from Israel). But as today’s barrage of missile fire aimed at southern Israel from Gaza shows, this Palestinian state presents a clear and present danger to both the Jewish state and regional stability. While no casualties resulted from the 50 rockets fired from Gaza, the incident not only terrorized southern Israel. It also demonstrated the inherent danger that an irredentist Palestinian state where armed terrorists are free to plan mayhem poses to Israel’s security. While peace activists claim all problems will be solved by Israeli territorial withdrawals, the example of Gaza, where every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was pulled out in 2005, continues to operate as a powerful argument against repeating the experiment in the West Bank as much of the world insists Israel must do.
It is true that Gaza is not technically independent. Its status is, like that of the West Bank, legally murky as no nation can claim unchallenged sovereignty on these portions of the former British Mandate for Palestine. Israel maintains a presence in the West Bank in the form of settlements, many of which it rightly expects to keep even in the event of a peace deal with the PA, as well as a strong security apparatus that exists to prevent a recurrence of the terror campaign of the second intifada that cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives. But Israel abandoned all claims to Gaza in 2005. It does attempt to keep the terrorist enclave in check via a blockade in which Egypt actively participates and which is legal under international law. That leaves some leftist propagandists to claim that it is still occupied, but this is nonsense. For all intents and purposes, Gaza is completely independent. And therein lies the problem.
The Palestinian state in all but name is bristling with weapons and honeycombed with fortifications aimed at making it difficult for Israel to counterattack against terror attacks launched from the strip. Though Hamas has largely observed the cease-fire which ended the daily assaults on southern Israel, it remains ready to use its military forces to counteract any possible peace moves from Abbas. Even worse, it tolerates the existence of another even more extreme Islamist terrorist movement in the area. Islamic Jihad has grown in strength and influence in recent years as a battered Hamas has grown more gun shy about confrontations with Israel.
The dynamics of Palestinian politics are such that these movements’ credibility rests on their ability to inflict pain on Israel. That means Islamic Jihad—which is allied with Iran and apparently the intended recipient of the Klos-C arms ship that Israeli forces intercepted last week—has an active interest in keeping the border hot in order to maintain pressure on Hamas to maintain its war on the Jewish state. Whether today’s missile fire was a local initiative that sought to remind Abbas or Hamas that movement toward peace was unacceptable or the result of an Iranian request, the net effect is the same.
The point here is that an independent Gaza is an armed camp that stands ready and willing to attack Israel at a moment’s notice. Yet as dangerous as it is, it remains hemmed in on the Jewish state’s southern periphery and its ability to inflict terror is limited. That would not be the case in the West Bank where, absent Israeli security forces, terror groups would have the ability to strike the country’s main population centers with impunity and with deadly effect.
It is true that if the conflict were settled and the Palestinian people accepted Israel’s permanence while giving up their dreams of destroying it either by armed conflict or by swamping it with the descendants of the 1948 refugees, there would be no need to fear that Palestinian sovereignty would pose a threat to the Jewish state. But one needn’t be a supporter of Israel’s right-wing parties or the settlement movement to understand that recreating the independent state in Gaza in the West Bank would be suicidal for Israel.
Though foreign observers strain to avoid drawing the obvious conclusion, a two- or three-state solution (if the PA achieves sovereignty in the West Bank while Hamas or Islamic Jihad holds onto Gaza) under the current circumstances would actually worsen the conflict rather than solving it. As long as Gaza provides an example of what Palestinian statehood means in practice, it is not reasonable to expect Israelis to replicate it in the West Bank or in portions of Jerusalem. If Palestinians and their foreign supporters wish to convince them otherwise, they can start by transforming their state in Gaza into one that is less dangerous for themselves and the Israelis. Until they do, no one should take their appeals for two states seriously.