On September 27, Israel announced plans to build 2600 new homes in East Jerusalem; an October 18th Haaretz editorial noted that “the creation of the new Jewish neighborhood will reduce the likelihood of reaching a peace agreement over Jerusalem.” The ongoing Jewish expansion into formerly Palestinian neighborhoods, not only within the pre-1967 boundaries of Jerusalem but beyond them as well, will “complete the ring that will cut off East Jerusalem completely from the southern West Bank,” Haaretz noted.
Two days ago a Hamas leader reported that an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza was a central component of the Shalit/Palestinian prisoners agreement; Haaretz reports that Israeli officials have essentially confirmed the Hamas report and that the Shalit agreement “marks a turning point in relations between Israel and Hamas.”
Almost certainly, these two recent developments are connected: taken together, they make the overall Israeli strategy unmistakably clear: to separate the West Bank from Gaza and to make a two-state settlement even more impossible. Unlike in the West Bank, Israel no longer has territorial, nationalist, or religious claims in Gaza; consequently, since its 2005 withdrawal of the Jewish settlements, Israel’s only interest in Gaza is that it not be attacked from there—regardless of who rules it.
Indeed, the return of hundreds of Hamas prisoners and the gradual ending of the Israeli economic siege of Gaza will assuredly strengthen Hamas’s control of Gaza and should be regarded as essentially a reward for the organization’s willingness to continue the de facto ceasefire with Israel—regardless of its policies and actions in the West Bank--that has been in effect since the end of the Israeli attack on Gaza in January 2009.
At the same time, the deal with Hamas has had the effect--in all probability the intended effect-- of marginalizing and humiliating Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, and other Palestinian moderates in the West Bank. Current international pressures (feeble as they are) focus only on an Israeli willingness to seriously negotiate a settlement with the Abbas government, but not Hamas: hence, it is likely that the logic of the Netanyahu government is that the weaker the PA in the West Bank, the stronger Hamas in Gaza, the less likely a two state settlement and the freer hand Israel has in the West Bank.
It is not the first time in Israeli history that it has actually preferred dealing with Hamas than with Palestinian moderates, precisely because the pressures on Israel to grant Palestinian independence in a viable state are far greater when it must negotiate a true compromise settlement with moderates, as opposed to reaching partial, unofficial, and reversible de facto agreements with Islamic radicals. The Shalit deal and the apparently impending end of the economic siege of Gaza, then, reflects a larger Hamas-Israeli agreement, tacit or negotiated: you leave us alone in Gaza, we leave you alone, not only in Israel proper, but in the West Bank as well.
The likely future is revealing itself: no Palestinian state, and certainly no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem: just two “entities,” the one in essentially disconnected and probably smaller and smaller Bantustans dominated and controlled by Israel, the other in a tiny sliver of land of no interest to Israel. If anything, irony of ironies, Hamas-controlled Gaza may well end up being freer of Israeli pressures, military incursions, and economic control than the West Bank under the most moderate and responsible Palestinian leadership in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.