We’re experiencing a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, quoting analysts is all too often interpreted as support for their positions and as a human rights organization we do not take positions on strategic-political issues. Whatever Israel’s position toward the Gaza Strip, we will keep insisting that the right to freedom of movement must be respected. On the other hand, Muhammad Mursi’s election to Egypt’s presidency has led commentators to reflect anew on Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip and we feel that this wave of renewed interest in the Gaza Strip warrants our attention. Freedom of movement is, among other things, a product of political relationships and security factors; changes in the relationship between Egypt, Gaza and Israel may impact the ability of Palestinians from Gaza to move freely.
So we have decided, as in the past, to provide a platform for the political-security debate that is currently taking place in Israel with respect to Gaza. The three views we cite here are different from one another but what is interesting and relevant for us is that all three recognize the need to allow movement between Gaza and the West Bank even if at different levels and in different ways.
View 1: Engage in dialogue with Hamas
Brigadier General (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies has recently written an article in which he claims that the changes in Egypt “open a door to a dialogue with Hamas”. Brom claims that Hamas has replaced its old patrons with Egypt, Qatar and maybe even Saudi Arabia, countries that support the political process with Israel. What is of interest to us in the article is Brom’s contention that this dialogue “would not have to be direct at first and can be effected by communicating positive messages to Hamas, such as changing the policy on the border crossings to the Gaza Strip”.
View 2: Complete the disengagement
Contrary to Brom, Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland published an op-ed in Ynet in which he urged to consider the Gaza Strip an independent enemy state whose government is responsible for any firing of projectiles from within its territory. According to Eiland, Israel has no obligation to trade with the Gaza Strip and sell it electricity (which, incidentally, is contrary to the position of the High Court of Justice) and that travel from Gaza to the West Bank should be made subject to periods of calm in terms of security. While we believe that travel between Gaza and the West Bank is too essential to be used as a bargaining chip, it is interesting to note that Eiland acknowledges the importance of the connection between the two areas.
View 3: Stop the separation
Shaul Mishal is a professor of political science who has done extensive work on Palestinian politics. In a recent interview (Hebrew) he gave to Israeli army radio, Mishal talked about calls from within Israel to use the fact that Hamas is getting closer to Egypt to finalize the separation between Gaza and the West Bank. “There will be no disengagement in the sense that we understand, cutting the umbilical cord between these two geographic areas or these two ideological rivals”, Mishal said. “I see no way that this could happen in our time. These are two lungs within the same body”.
It is worth noting that a recent report by the International Crisis Group, an international organization devoted to researching and preventing conflict, supports Mishal’s position. The report addresses the changes Hamas faces and maintains that reuniting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is necessary for achieving a two-state solution. The report says: “territorial division, coupled with Gaza’s persistent economic isolation, contains the seeds of further conflict with Israel”.