PNA: The Israelis' Exercise in Long Division
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sept. 20 in an ill-fated attempt to bring the two sides together for a U.S.-backed peace conference in November. The Israeli government set the tone for Rice's trip Sept. 19, when it declared the Gaza Strip an enemy entity and announced its intention to cut fuel and electricity to Gaza's 1.5 million residents in order to pressure Palestinian militant groups into halting rocket salvos into Israel.
Though Israel is essentially sealing off the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and leaving it to rot, it also is working to normalize relations with the Fatah-dominated West Bank. The Israeli Defense Ministry announced Sept. 19 that it will remove 24 barriers across the West Bank to ease the hardships of Palestinians living in the territory and bolster support for Abbas. But Israel is not doing this to help the West Bank Palestinians; it is doing this to divide them.
The Palestinians already have split themselves further into disparate territories with Hamas' June takeover in the Gaza Strip. Israel is essentially seizing this design to financially and politically isolate Hamas and the Gaza Strip while exploiting an opportunity to further fracture the West Bank. Via its security barrier and strategically placed settlements, Israel already has fractured the West Bank into a spread of noncontiguous enclaves. By economically engaging these enclaves now, Israel is imposing an economic reality on the West Bank in which all border crossings, fuel shipments, water supplies, labor permits, food supplies and currency transfers will be made on Israel's terms. Not only does this economically isolate one Palestinian territory from the other, it also makes the various West Bank enclaves more dependent on Israel than on each other and deepens the geographical and political fissures in the West Bank by encouraging the formation of independent political entities to handle day-to-day business.
The end result? An Israeli guarantee that a politically and economically viable Palestinian state cannot form.
Though this policy serves Israel's strategic goals regarding the containment of its Palestinian neighbors, it also opens up a new can of worms. There already are indications that jihadist influence has crept into the Gaza Strip against the will of Hamas, which does not want its influence usurped by Islamist militants with grander goals in mind. The Gaza Strip's isolation and Hamas' loosening control over the territory will provide a fertile ground for other militant Islamist agendas to take root. This clearly does not bode well for Israel, but it also is bad news for Egypt, which does not want instability in Gaza to move across its border into the Sinai Peninsula, where Cairo has already been working to stamp out jihadist activity. Egypt's handling of the Palestinian affair has been muted as of late, but that is bound to change as Israel proceeds in its designs for the southern Levant.