The Oslo agreement was explicit in emphasizing the need to maintain the geographic integrity of the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly to create a geo-political link between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Geographic integrity is a necessary condition for the creation of a viable state, making this link of the highest priority. Without geographic integrity of the West Bank and Gaza, a viable state, one of two ultimate objectives of the peace process, the other being security, becomes untenable.
However, one major characteristic of Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory has aimed at exactly the opposite and is disintegrating territorial contiguity, not only between the West Bank and Gaza but also within the West Bank. This disintegration has been achieved by Israel’s separation wall, the continued building and expansion of settlements and the restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
Fears among Palestinians that a total separation of Gaza from the West Bank is in the cards increased after the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. The reason the Palestinian side insisted on not opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt even after the Israeli withdrawal, except under an agreement with Israel, was because the Palestinian side wanted to maintain and ensure the application of the same customs regulations in both the West Bank and Gaza in order to maintain economic unity of the Palestinian territory.
These fears were only heightened after comments by Israeli politicians that the Gaza crossings to and through Israel might be converted into international borders. Now, after the victory of Hamas in parliamentary elections, Israel is increasingly speaking of further separation of the West Bank from Gaza.
Hamas’ victory, combined with Israeli sanctions including preventing elected Hamas Legislative Council members from moving between the West Bank and Gaza, will create an awkward geo-political situation whereby future officials of the Palestinian Authority can easily travel through Rafah from Gaza to Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, etc., but will not be able to move from one part of their country to another.
The disintegration also has detrimental economic consequences. According to recent World Bank predictions, it will increase the percentage of people under the poverty line to a staggering 70 percent, with unemployment at over 30 percent.
Gaza is not economically viable on its own. The West Bank will lack strategic access to the Mediterranean without Gaza. In fact, this separation could well mean the end of the possibility of a viable independent Palestinian state ever emerging.
Such a development, with its political and economic consequences, will maintain the conflict and increase hostility and violence. It will put further obstacles in the way of the peace that is still aspired to by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, it will be contrary to the wishes of the international community that has spent not less than seven billion dollars to build institutions that lay the foundations and backbone of a future Palestinian state, in the knowledge that this is a prerequisite for peace.