Let West Gaza be Palestine

The money is there, the space is there and all it needs now is the traveling diplomacy John Kerry, Tony Blair, and the goodwill of the Egyptians, the Arabs and the Israelis.

A CONCEPTUAL map of the Gaza and Sinai region illustrating the author’s idea. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A CONCEPTUAL map of the Gaza and Sinai region illustrating the author’s idea.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seasoned politicians throughout the world call for the two-state solution. US Secretary of State John Kerry rushes around the Middle East to promote it, so far without success. Former British prime minister Tony Blair is appointed to help organize it, but he sits in Jerusalem and cannot advance it.
So what is the two-state solution, and why has it made so little progress? The reason seems to be because the two-state solution is in fact not a solution. In physical terms it would mean the majority of Israeli Arabs living in a state alongside the State of Israel, and that would entail joining the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, which would have to be accomplished by means of a corridor across Israel or a tunnel. The 30-mile corridor would split Israel in half and hardly act as a good connection, and so is unacceptable to both sides. A similarly long tunnel is totally impractical, frightfully costly and not even a real connection, so that isn’t acceptable to anyone either.
The Arabs would want east Jerusalem as their capital, but a divided city is unacceptable to Israel. They had it once before and it does not work. The Israelis would demand a demilitarized West Bank, and that is unacceptable to the Arabs.
So there is as yet no practical physical plan for the twostate solution, and it is not surprising therefore that this so-called solution is thus not making any progress.
At present large areas of Gaza lie in ruins and there is no space to both clear the rubble and rebuild. The population will have to be decamped temporarily to make space for reconstruction, and that is impossible within the narrow confines of the Gaza Strip. Egypt has offered Gaza space to extend into the Sinai; it was reported in September of last year that Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had offered a large chunk of the Sinai to Gaza but that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, refused the offer.
The Egyptians were reportedly embarrassed, and denied the offer had been made. On the other hand Egypt is, as usual, in economic distress and is desperate for expertise and funds to duplicate its one real money-spinner, the Suez Canal, but so far there are no takers and so it cannot proceed with this financial lifeline. Why should it not sell part of the Sinai to land-strapped Gaza? The Sinai is the last untapped land resource in the area and it could be the answer to the two-state solution. At present it lies empty except for marauding Beduin tribes making trouble for all sides, and Egypt does not know what to do with it or with them. However, if the northern strip of the Sinai, along the coast, were developed it could take the Gaza overflow while the city is being rebuilt, and Egypt could be paid for it and use the funds to develop and duplicate its canal. After reconstruction Gaza should be allowed to expand permanently into the Sinai strip and take over the majority of its length, from Rafiah via El Arish most of the way to Ismailia, and thus form a new corniche, call it the Corniche Sinai, the Eastern Riviera if you will, or better and more accurately, West Gaza.
The northern coast of Sinai has golden beaches, warm inland waters and year-long sunshine – lots of it. It has underground water and acres of flat land suitable for development, for an international airport, for example, and a coastline available for a full-scale trading port, the kind of port and airport for which the Gazans have been clamoring. The rubble of shattered Gaza would be a godsend to the engineers building the piers of a new port, and the flat land around the tiny El-Arish airport could support and extend into the full-scale international airport. The vicinity of the picturesque southern Sinai mountains and monuments, such as the Santa Catherina monastery and the ranges around Mount Sinai itself, will make it an outstanding location for adventurous tourists, mountain climbers and ancient history buffs, while the warm waters and sun-drenched beaches of the coastline would attract rich sybarites from all over the eastern and western world.
It all adds up to a thriving, linear city extending for 90 miles, two-thirds developed to be West Gaza and one-third East Egypt. Gaza then becomes a full-scale country with a viable economy based on fruit and flowers (as it was when Israel was in possession), desirable future hi-tech industry and contemporary tourism, with a working seaport and a business-trading airport; while Egypt develops an enlarged and duplicated Suez Canal, with a new central Suez City between the two waterways, to boost its flagging economy, paid for by the Americans and the Saudis, to compensate it for the land it donates to Gaza. As the Gazan economy develops, the heavy annual subsidies to the Palestinians from Europe could reduce and the United Nations annual contributions to UNRWA could eventually disappear.
And Gaza becomes Palestine, whether Abbas likes it or not. It will thrive sufficiently to attract the Arabs of the West Bank, who live at present in poverty in a landlocked strip that has no economic future and depends on funds supplied by the EU and other donors. As its inhabitants drift to the new Gaza, its land will be available for development by the Israelis and those Arabs who want to remain and who will be welcome to assist and profit from it. But the majority will want to taste the delights of the new West Gaza, which will be the new Palestine, a country in one piece, in one area, with one economy and one bright Islamic future.
That Gaza is Palestine is founded in history. The Romans called the country “Palestina” on the basis that it was the land of the Philistines, or Philistia, a land based on the four Philistine cities that clustered around the ancient central city of Gaza. Long before that, the Assyrians had recognized Gaza as the great trading center that linked them to Egypt. Gaza was the trading linchpin between Assyria and Egypt and the one important city that linked the two opposing empires. For an expanded Gaza to become the new Palestine would be the final realization of an historical truth that goes back for 2,000 years and more.
That would be a practical, physical plan and solution to the two-state solution. It would be a plan for the seasoned diplomats to promote and to work on in political terms.
The money is there, the space is there and all it needs now is the traveling diplomacy of an indefatigable John Kerry, of a well-intentioned and experienced Tony Blair, and the goodwill of the Egyptians, the Arabs and the Israelis, to all of whose advantage it will work in the end.
The author is a Senior Fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.