By Becca Strober
According to multiple news sources, including Haaretz and JPost, Hamas and Israel are currently in the process of solidifying a deal that would end the closure (also known as the blockade) in exchange for an eight-year cease-fire, return of prisoners and halt to tunnel building. On the surface, this deal seems favorable for both sides. Gaza would be able to start much needed reconstruction and rebuild its economy, while Israel would gain regional quiet for the near future. However, reality is more complicated than it often seems.
There multiple problems with this deal, for both Israelis who want long-term regional stability, and for Palestinians who fighting for self-determination and economic prosperity. Though it is unknown if this deal will come through, it is worth looking at couple of potential outcomes for the players involved.
The deal connects Gaza to the outside world economically, but not to the West Bank or Israel
This detail may seem small and irrelevant considering Gaza would be gaining a seaport (a floating port three kilometers off the coast). However, even with access to the outside world, Gaza would have a difficult time re-developing its economy without full access to Israeli and West Bank markets, where 85% of its good were sold before the closure. Israel and the West Bank are Gaza’s natural markets, both in terms of its short distance and lower tariffs, since the goods would be sold internally rather than internationally. As Israel’s security establishment has said, only economic prosperity in Gaza can lead to regional stability, and yet, by excluding access to Israel and the West bank, this agreement does not take the necessary steps to ensure economic development. If economic prosperity is what is needed to gain regional security, then this agreement would likely fail to ensure safety for Israeli residents, especially those living on the Gaza border, either.
This agreement could further Israel’s ability to control, rather than end, the occupation
Though not a country, this deal creates what resembles a semi-autonomous state in Gaza, i.e., without the West Bank. While the closure must end in order to ensure the rights of the 1.8 Palestinians enduring collective punishment under it, this agreement could also further solidify the separation of Gaza from the West Bank. By agreeing to this deal, Israel can more easily enforcethe separation policy, which aims to keep the West Bank and Gaza as separate political entities, while continuing its active occupation in the West Bank.
Though there is not regular military presence in Gaza since 2005, Israel still has full control of sea and airspace, as well as crossings into Israel. This means all goods enter and leave Gaza, and that people can travel only through Erez Crossing, connecting Israel and Gaza, or Rafah crossing, connecting Gaza to Egypt, which is usually closed. Hence, though Israel no longer has military or civilian presence, the international community still considers Gaza to be occupied because of the effective control Israel has over the strip.
If this agreement were to be signed, it would not change the amount of effective control that Israel has over Gaza. Rather, it would ease some of the restrictions, that it has in place such as forbidding goods to enter Gaza via the sea. However, it would continue to control Gaza’s sea space and well as its airspace. So though on the surface this agreement looks as though it would create a Gaza that is freed from Israeli control, it may, in practice, ease international pressure off of Israel without truly ending Israel’s occupation of Gaza (and the West Bank, of course).
On a Human Rights level, any change that allows for greater access policies and freedom of movement should be welcomed, but it should also be recognized that such changes may come with a price. If this agreement passes, the price could be continued occupation for at least the next eight years.
So who benefits?
Not surprisingly, the two groups who benefit from this deal are the Israeli Right and Hamas. Why? The Israeli Right has been trying for many years to permanently separate Gaza from the West Bank, so that they can annex the West Bank and still have a Jewish majority (E.G., the platform of the Jewish Home Party). By giving Gaza some autonomy and by not connecting it to the West Bank, Israel will have successfully created to two separate policies for two different areas. Furthermore, by entering this agreement, Israel will be recognizing Hamas as the ruling group within Gaza, separating it from its already recognized counterpart. By recognizing the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, it will be more feasible for Israel to have disconnected policies for each area of the occupied Palestinian territory.
Hamas would also benefit, as they often express interest in running Gaza without the input of PA. Until now, Israel has claimed that it refuses negotiate with Hamas (although it does, of course, negotiate with Hamas when it signs cease-fires and prisoner change agreements). By Israel recognizing Hamas as the ruling group in Gaza, it may leverage Hamas to be in a position to reject partnerships with the PA and with other factions within the Strip. Not surprisingly, many factions are in fact upset by rumors that this agreement may be signed, hurting the possibility for Palestinian unity.
The bottom line
This potential deal is problematic, as it is likely to benefit specific groups in power, rather than the residents of both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, it may allow for Israel to continue its effective control while preventing the strip from developing economically.
That is not to say the that closure is just or that it should continue. The closure as a legitimate security measure has been questioned, and the use of collective punishment widely documented. Even so, those in favor of ending the closure on Gaza and the occupation should question this potential agreement, as the details show that is unlikely to do either.