Expert suggests sovereignty for Gaza as talks stall
With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks mired in stalemate, someone has come up with a truly provocative idea: Give Gaza sovereignty.
Gaza, of course, is the Palestinian enclave now run by Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group. It is the subject of an Israeli quarantine and been largely forgotten as the Obama administration presses ahead with a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank.
But Geoffrey Aronson, director of research and publications at the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington -- and an expert on settlement growth on the West Bank -- recently published a paper arguing for the concept. Even more surprising, he cites an Israeli news report as suggesting that Israel's Foreign Ministry has produced a confidential plan expressing interest in the idea.
"A 'sovereignty in Gaza first' scenario is anathema to almost all the major diplomatic players, but increasingly less so for Israel and Hamas," Aronson writes. He says Israel would be able to extricate itself from being viewed as the "occupier" of Gaza -- Jerusalem's goal when it departed Gaza in 2004 -- while Hamas would get its own state.
Already, Aronson notes, Gaza has attributes of a state that the West Bank Palestinians appear to be years away from negotiating with Israel.
"Gaza's Hamas leadership, for all of its travails and shortcomings, exercises attributes of sovereignty that leaders in the West Bank can only dream about," Aronson writes. "Gaza enjoys territorial contiguity and travel within the enclave unobstructed by settlers or IDF [Israel Defense Forces] checkpoints. Palestinian soldiers and police exercise a monopoly of force over territory they control. For the first time in modern Palestinian history a nascent Palestinian army exists, featuring a unified system of command and control, deployed in its own territory, and able to survive a punishing Israeli assault and incursion."
Aronson recommends that the international community push for a deal, using a series of benchmarks, that would allow for Gaza to be opened up to trade and travel links in exchange for Israel being relieved of "residual humanitarian responsibilities for Gaza's population" and the stigma of being labeled "occupying power."
Of course, this idea is certain to draw strong pushback from the United States and other diplomatic players. Diplomats would likely argue it would appear to legitimize Hamas, as well as the group's assertion that fighting Israel is the path to statehood, not negotiations. Another argument against the idea: It could risk weakening the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.
Still, this is the Middle East, where alliances shift as quickly as the desert sands and stranger things have happened.
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