Is territorial discontinuity a real obstacle?

Territorial division between Gaza and the West Bank is not an obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state.

February 18, 2013 22:11
3 minute read.
AHMED QUREI, at the time Palestinian prime minister

AHMED QUREI, at the time Palestinian prime minister. (photo credit: Reuters)


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On November 19, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution against Israel for the government’s decision to build in the settlements and east Jerusalem. The resolution was vetoed by the US, but European members of the Security Council, including France, the UK, Germany and Portugal, together with India and South Africa, adopted a joint declaration of condemnation for the building plan approved by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Catherine Ashton, head of EU diplomacy, also condemned the plan to build in the E1 zone, between northeast Jerusalem and west Ma’aleh Adumim.

These condemnations are based on two principles: settlements as an obstacle to peace per se, and the presence of settlements as an obstacle to the territorial contiguity of a potential Palestinian state. Regarding the first principle, the main counter argument focuses on the Palestinian will to negotiate borders.

The second principle – i.e., territorial contiguity – is often used in arguments against Israel, but is territorial contiguity really essential to the formation of a state?

GEOGRAPHICALLY, THERE are five kinds of states: contiguous, with a homogeneous territory (such as Germany and Brazil); prolonged, with an extended territory in latitude or longitude (like Chile or Mozambique); irregular (like Greece); perforated, with sovereign states within its territory (like Italy with San Marino and South Africa with Lesotho and Swaziland); and fragmented, with a discontinuous territory interrupted by seas or by other states.

Among fragmented states are Russia (with Kaliningrad in European territory), the US (with Alaska), Denmark, Philippines and Japan (with archipelagos), Malaysia and Oman.

Territorial discontinuity is problematic in terms of defense of the territory and communication among different areas. However, fragmentation is not always a negative characteristic since analysts stress that it may have positive effects in economical, political and social terms.

In economic terms, fragmentation implies a major integration with surrounding territories, with a consequent openness to bordering states, from which to remain independent precisely through markets and cooperation. In political terms, fragmentation implies a devolution of administrative powers to local authorities, in respect of the “subsidiarity principle,” according to which matters have to be dealt with by the competent level of governance nearest to the individual.

Finally, in social terms, fragmentation favors the development of separate social bodies, which functions to preserve local cultures and customs as well as encouraging the formation of a supra-communal common identity.

PALESTINE IS today fragmented, with the separation of the West Bank and Gaza, while territorial fragmentation due to the presence of Israeli settlements is not necessarily incompatible with economic development. Indeed, territorial discontinuity of areas under Israeli administration in the West Bank has not impeded the growth of economy and society.

Fragmentation might lead to an increasing integration of Palestine in the region, and might lead to the autonomous development of non-homogenous communities. Economic and cooperation agreements among Israel, Jordan and Egypt could be beneficial for Palestinians, who could host in their discontinuous territory industries and institutions bridging the three (or four) states.

Territorial division could give birth to a confederal state, apt to the preservation of loyalties and identities that focus, besides nation and religion, also on clans and families.

Existing fragmented states are not always comparable to Palestine for extension and resources, however, some of them are models of institutional, political, economic and cultural development of territorially “diffused” societies. Among these, there are Malaysia, Denmark and Oman.

THEREFORE, TERRITORIAL discontinuity is not inherently an obstacle to the formation of a state. In fact, such geographical peculiarity can even be an advantage. Small, fragmented and poor archipelago states have found a way to overcome their natural conditions with reference to economic development and power in the international community.

Discontinuity is not an obstacle to the creation of a prosperous Palestinian state, represented more by the absence of a political will to give birth to Palestine with our opposing Israel.

The writer is author of the report “How much does it cost to delegitimize Israel?” on public funding of Italian political NGOs.

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