Encountering Peace: What about the Strip?

If we reach a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, it would give hope to the people under Hamas rule in Gaza and offer them an alternative to the repressive regime

How can Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas be our partner for peace if he doesn’t control Gaza and Hamas is so powerful? This is the question that most people ask me every time I assert that peace is possible and that an agreement is within reach. What is the purpose of reaching an agreement with Abbas only regarding the West Bank – are we now talking about three-states for two peoples? I believe that we must reach an agreement with Abbas regarding all of the core issues – statehood, borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water, economics, etc. The agreement will state that the West Bank and Gaza are one integral territorial unit, just as stipulated in the Interim Agreement from September 1995. The permanent status agreement will indicate that the agreement for the establishment of the state of Palestine recognizes Gaza as part of the state, but it will also stipulate that the implementation of the agreement with regard to the Strip will only take place when there is a regime change that allows for the unification of the two territories under one government which recognizes all of its obligations under the peace treaty.
Hamas’s support in the West Bank and Gaza is on a steady decline. The decline in Gaza is even more significant than in the West Bank, mainly because the people there have had firsthand experience with the repressive regime. While Hamas was elected by popular support, it no longer enjoys that support and an overwhelming majority of Palestinians in general, and in Gaza in particular would like to see a change.
The problem is that the change is not likely to come via the ballot box. Hamas won the elections because the people were fed up with Fatah – with its corruption, with its false promises, with its lack of ability to govern – and after elections, Fatah turned over control to Hamas, which consolidated its full control by a coup d’état in June 2007.
Many Palestinians who voted for Hamas (which did not run under the title “Hamas” but under a party called “Change and Reform”) wanted to punish Fatah for its bad behavior. Almost no one thought that Hamas would win, but it did and now it is not prepared to surrender control.
SINCE THOSE 2006 elections, Palestinians have been punished by their own bad choice. For the general dissatisfaction with Hamas to turn into a mass popular uprising, certain things need to happen that will motivate the people of Gaza to take the great risks necessary to bring about a regime change.
Palestinians must be given a clear choice between the end of the occupation and the creation of a state in the West Bank as opposed to the continued repressive regime and no hope offered by Hamas. .
This means that as the negotiations progress, positive changes must take place on the ground.
More roadblocks must be removed; more authority over greater land areas must be given to the Palestinian authority – mainly in Area C. Palestinians must see agreement on borders and the beginning of settlers moving back into Israel or into the settlements that will be part of the blocks annexed to Israel by agreement. The political climate of peacemaking needs to earn a positive dimension that enables people to understand that it is really happening.
In Gaza, additional elements of the economic siege must end. It is not enough to simply allow more goods to enter. Raw materials for industrial production and for export need to enter and finished goods need to be able to reach markets in Israel, the West Bank, the Arab world and Europe. Ninety percent of the closed factories need to reopen so that 65% of people who are unemployed can get back to work.
The working class represents the majority of Gazans who are moderate people. These are not the fanatics who support Hamas. These are the people who would be happy to work in Israel and with Israelis if they had the chance. It is time to allow them to get back to work. It is time to allow labor from Gaza to come back to work in Israel.
The textile and furniture subcontracting relationships that existed between many Israeli and Palestinian companies and employed thousands of Gazans must resume.
LASTLY THE construction of the physical link between the West Bank and Gaza must be started immediately. There is no reason to wait until there is an agreement. The preference of the security establishment is a tunnel linking the two areas. This would provide the highest degree of security along the route and would also enable the Palestinians the highest degree of control and sovereignty. The entrances and exits can be monitored by Americans, NATO personnel or others against smuggling of weapons and explosives.
The tunnel will not reach Gaza until there is a regime change there but the people will know that it is close. (Israel will ensure that Hamas will not complete the tunnel on its own, completely aware of its great expertise in tunnel affairs.) If all of that were to be implemented, forces in Gaza would be let loose that would dislodge Hamas from control. It is unlikely that this will take place without the use of force. The use if force, if necessary, must rely primarily on Palestinians and be based on a Palestinian strategy.
These forces could be within Gaza, even from among the thousands who serve in the Hamas security forces and want a change.
It could reach a point where Palestinian forces call for support from their brothers in the West Bank, or from Egypt and Jordan or even from the international community. When the people of Gaza are willing and ready to take real risks to bring about a regime change, they will receive help from their own people and from others.
Israel can lend a hand from outside.
There are those Palestinians who believe that national dialogue will lead to reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. I believe that this is possible and even likely, but only if there is no peace process. If the peace process fails, there is likely to be a true Palestinian national dialogue that will lead to unity against the common enemy – Israel. If peace is real, there is no possibility for unity between the national forces who want peace and the Islamic fundamentalists who don’t.
Peace means the demise of Hamas in popular support and the end of its regime in Gaza.
The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.