17 June 2007

A "Two-Palestines" Policy?

The events of the past week in the Gaza Strip have potential to shake diplomacy and statecraft in the Middle East for months and years to come. With the de facto establishment of Hamas-stan in Gaza, the West is quickly turning its attention and support to Mahmoud Abbas' moderate government based out of the West Bank. Today we learned that Canada is going to resume its aid to the Palestinian Authority, and presumably other countries are going to follow suit in an attempt to bolster his Fatah party as the best potential partner for peace and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This is sensible, as moving forward is in just about everybody's interest, but it also an approach that may lead to future difficulties.

In the short term, it will appear as though the West is abandoning the Palestinians in the West Bank who want no part of a Hamas-led territory. We have already seen large numbers of people flocking to the border with Israel in an attempt to get out of Gaza and into either Israel or the West Bank. Those people who are not as fortunate or do not have the means to get out of the Strip will be trapped in what can only be described as a hellhole. There will be no direct international aid flowing to a terrorist organization because we know that Hamas will not use the moneys for advancing the interests of the people in Gaza; rather, they will use it to purchase arms and disseminate anti-West/anti-Israel propaganda. Meanwhile, they will utilize the images of Palestinians in the West Bank living comfortably and blame the suffering of Palestinians trapped in Gaza on Israel, the occupation, and anybody else that they believe they can credibly pass the buck to.

Additionally, a territory dominated by Hamas will become a mini-Afghanistan circa the late 1990's. They will use the land to train people for jihad against Israel, instructing them how to use illegally-purchased assault weapons, devise IEDs, and inflict damage against civilian populations. With the war against Hezbollah fresh in everybody's minds, Israel will no doubt be compelled to fortify itself against a likely attack emanating out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. This will only allow Hamas further propaganda opportunities to incite violence against Israel.

With aid restored to Abbas, he will be able to strengthen security in the West Bank, crack down on insurgents and terrorists, and demonstrate that there has been progress and possibly seek new discussions about a Palestinian state in the West Bank. There will be considerable support for this initiative should he be able to consistently demonstrate progress in the West Bank along well-established political and security metrics. I'm looking at a timeframe of months here; if the West Bank consolidates while Gaza continues to deteriorate, by the end of the year there will be two very different sections of land that have long been considered the foundation points for a future Palestinian state. It is doubtful, of course, that the Palestinians will only accept a state that is only half of what has been the consensus view for the past decade, but if Gaza becomes a lost hope, will Abbas cut his losses and accept the best deal he can?

This is a very fluid situation, though clearly things are not looking good for the future status of the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Unless the tide turns, we may well be looking at a two-track policy vis-a-vis Palestine. And that could have very serious and grave consequences for the future.

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