Erez Crossing. Photo: Olly Lambert, Flickr. CC BY 2.0
Erez Crossing. Photo: Olly Lambert, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Every year the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) publishes the “Strategic Survey for Israel”, a collection of analytical essays about the political and security dilemmas Israel is likely to confront in the coming year. This year’s edition includes an essay by Anat Kurtz and Udi Dekel entitled “Israel and the Political Dead End – The Need for New Paradigms”, which touches on an issue that has been at the top of Gisha’s agenda over the past year – the separation policy.

Last year, when we published an info sheet on the separation policy, the policy itself was shrouded in mystery. Every once in a while, security officials could be heard using the need to “separate” or “differentiate” ((We note that the word in Hebrew בידול can mean either “separation” or “differentiation”. We have seen the term used and the policy expressed in both senses of the word. Kurtz and Dekel primarily address the policy in the sense of differentiating or distinguishing between Gaza and the West Bank from an economic standpoint.)) Gaza Strip from the West Bank as justification for the travel restrictions Israel imposes. Yet there was no evidence of a government resolution authorizing the policy or any official explanation about what it entailed. Nonetheless the policy is real and has serious consequences for the lives of Palestinian residents of both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The essay by Kurtz and Dekel is the first we have come across that expressly addresses this policy and places it in a historical context. The authors claim that the separation policy was introduced before Hamas won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections in 2006 as part of an attempt to “advance the West Bank economically and thus show the Palestinian public that calm holds more promise than resistance…”

It is important to recall that many of the restrictions were imposed on Gaza long before 2005, like the sweeping ban on Gaza students taking up academic studies in the West Bank, which has been in effect since 2000. Freedom of movement for Gaza residents was increasingly restricted starting in the early 1990s and peaking between the summer of 2007 and the beginning of 2009.

According to Kurtz and Dekel, the rationale for “differentiation”, as they call it, was formulated almost eight years ago. It has been long enough for security and strategy experts to reassess the underlying rationale and ask – as Kurtz and Dekel imply – whether the attempt to apply indiscriminate pressure on the entire population in order to engineer public opinion has actually been successful. Of course, the outcome of the policy has no bearing on the question of whether or not it is legal. The answer to this question, Gisha maintains, has been no since day one and will continue to be no for as long as travel restrictions are imposed in order to advance political goals rather than to confront concrete and specific security threats.

The separation policy reflects a premise that has gained prominence over the past few years as negotiations are primarily aimed at resolving the question of who would control the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, if mentioned at all, is relegated to discussions about security. In their essay, Kurtz and Dekel describe in detail the factors that have led to the political stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians. One can agree or disagree with their analysis, but it does make it clear that the future of the political process and Israel’s policy toward the Gaza Strip are not separate issues. Even after years of separation, Gaza is still part of the political equation and it’s not going anywhere.