Welcome to the “New Gaza”

Israel is hastening to annex more than 30 percent of the occupied West Bank. The area in question comprises the current settlements and the Jordan Valley, which is considered the breadbasket of the putative Palestinian state that was to be built on the land Israel conquered in 1967. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel on May 13 to make the final arrangements for the annexation plan, expected to be implemented in July.

If finalized, this annexation will represent, for the first time, the practical end of the two-state solution and the Oslo Accords that consecrated it. The urgent question will thus concern a new framework for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This has prompted some to conclude that the one-state solution is such a framework and others to consider alternate scenarios, such as a binational state. What is important at this juncture is the vision of the leaders of the Israeli right who are working on annexation plans and undoubtedly have an idea of their eventual goal. Judging from their entire political history in managing the conflict, their aim is to create a new reality in the West Bank that could euphemistically be called the “new Gaza.”

The Israeli right never believed in a two-state solution; rather, they envisioned complete control over historic Palestine from the river to the sea. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged at the height of the peace process in the 1990s––after the Oslo Accords––to scuttle the two-state idea and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. He appears to have succeeded—at least in announcing the death of the two-state solution. And since he and other right-wingers do not appreciate what they view as “suicidal solutions,” they will not choose the one-state plan. Thus, annexing the Jordan Valley and the areas of the settlements will only be a first step toward the gradual and creeping takeover of the sparsely populated Area C in the West Bank, where Israel currently maintains military control.

In fact, Israel’s expropriation of more West Bank land while controlling its borders and cutting it off geographically from Jordan will lead to its transformation into an area of extreme population density that is deprived of its agricultural base. It may very well become as congested as the Gaza Strip today––or even more so––with exceptionally high unemployment and no capacity for building a national economy. In other words, a new entity would be founded in the West Bank that resembles today’s Gaza. In this case, the only difference between the two “Gazas” would be that extant Gaza is under siege with the help of an Arab regime while the “new Gaza” would be completely surrounded by Israel, which will not require another Arab state to assist it in the deed.

A “soft ethnic cleansing” will represent the second phase of the Israeli right’s vision of liquidating the Palestinian cause on the land of historic Palestine. To be sure, after a stifling siege and planned land expropriation, the occupation government will begin taking a series of steps to further harass the people of the West Bank. These can include imposing exorbitant taxes, withdrawing the residency permits of those not continually residing there, and disallowing new building permits—all with the aim of removing the basic conditions for a life of dignity. In the absence of space to accommodate the natural increase in population, ultimately the Palestinians in the West Bank will find that their only option is to emigrate. In essence, therefore, Israel will not need to enforce regulations for population transfers that would render Palestinians a minority in their historic land since they would have no other recourse than emigration to secure a dignified living.

The question then arises: will the Israeli right actually succeed in creating a “new Gaza” and ending the question of Palestine? Not necessarily. The rightists will annex a large chunk of land; if they succeed in incorporating it into the Israeli master plan, they would have an unprecedented breakthrough. If they fail, however, this step would become a pivotal station on the road to defeating the Zionist project. Many Israeli security officials have issued public warnings about such a danger, including Ami Ayalon, former director of the Shin Bet (the domestic security service), Tamir Pardo, former director of Mossad (the intelligence agency), and Gadi Shamni, former commander of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command. The three wrote a critical essay in Foreign Policy on April 23 in which they argued that annexation represents a danger to Israel’s national security.

The Palestinians can defeat the annexation project and use it as a real opportunity to redefine their national vision and to re-sketch new liberation strategies. These should be fresh and different in substance; to wit, the instruments of the old and sterile plans that the Palestinian leadership has regurgitated over the last quarter of a century only led to a struggle characterized by absurdity, one that runs in empty circles. To achieve the needed success, Palestinians, as a first step, should disabuse themselves of the illusion of a “one-state solution,” which many have discussed since Israel’s preparations for annexation began. They must remember that while the Israeli right is the sponsor of annexation, all Israelis, whether they identify with the right or the left, will fight tooth and nail to prevent the one-state option from becoming a reality.

Ibrahim Fraihat is Associate Professor of International Conflict Resolution at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. This essay was first published in Arabic in al-Araby al-Jadid on May 17, 2020.