New report warns against linking Gaza to West Bank

Report criticizes idea that viability of future Palestinian state depends on "contiguity" of West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian protest 298. (photo credit: AP)
Palestinian protest 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Linking the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with a transportation system for goods and people would be dangerous and unnecessary, according to a new study by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The report criticizes the hypothesis that the viability of a future Palestinian state depends on the "contiguity" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It argues that, although the importance of contiguity has been recognized by many international leaders, including US President George W. Bush, there is no historical, legal or economic reason to do so. "Those who assert that Israel is obliged by international law to create such a passage are wholly mistaken or misled. There is no such obligation on Israel," said report authors Justus Reid Weiner and Diane Morrison. The report, "Linking the Gaza Strip with the West Bank," comes as Hamas has taken over Gaza and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is set to head to Washington, where he is expected to discuss a system of truck convoys between Gaza and the West Bank. But Israel has no legal obligation to allowing Palestinian convoys to pass through its territory, said Weiner, who teaches international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Moreover, such a transportation system would be risky for Israel, because it could be used to transport weapons from Gaza to the West Bank, Weiner said. That would mean rockets hitting Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, he said. "What I tried to do is to get people away from these buzz words that mean nothing," Weiner told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. From 1948 to 1967, the Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan, with no link between them. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 makes no mention of such a link, the report noted. A request to link the two areas contradicts the demand by Palestinians to return to the pre-1967 borders, Weiner said, because the West Bank and Gaza were not linked at that time. According to the new report, the idea of a safe passage between the areas first came under serious consideration in the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (also called the Cairo Agreement) of May 4, 1994. Legally, said Weiner, territorial continuity is not a requirement for statehood and the Palestinian territories could be recognized as a state even if they were not contiguous. "A state does not have an inherent right to a link between geographically distinct areas," the report said. The report points to nine states with noncontinuous territory - including the United States, as Alaska is separated from the continental US by 800 kilometers of Canadian territory. A Palestinian state could similarly exist even if there were no link between Gaza and the West Bank, said Weiner. A transportation corridor would not be necessary because alternative routes could be devised through Jordan and Egypt, he said. Since 1977, the Arab League has granted Palestinians the right of transit through their countries, which means that their goods are exempt from custom fees and taxes, noted the report. The researchers said the Gaza coast has rich natural gas reserves that could be exported via Egypt. "Gaza could yet be a new Qatar, economically thriving off its bountiful gas reserves," said the report. Finally, Weiner said, it is a mistake to assume that for a Palestinian state to be viable, it must be contiguous. "What makes a country viable is the rule of law, good educational institutions, freedom of the press and respect for people's rights," he said. But Seth Jones of the US-based RAND Corporation, which has researched the same subject, disputed the idea that it was unnecessary to link Gaza and the West Bank. Jones, who had not seen Weiner's report, said a Palestinian state with no link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would be highly inefficient and costly to run. Jones, a terrorism expert, said it is hard to run an effective security system if power is decentralized and one cannot control the flow of troops and resources into an area, he said. "Hamas been able to conquer most of Gaza at the moment because it has been difficult for Fatah to get reinforcements into Gaza," Jones said.