Prime Minister Sharon's proposal to withdraw under fire from all of Gaza flies in the face of America's and Israel's common interest to defeat terrorism and spread democracy - whether, in Gaza or Falluja. And yet Israel is crying for a political and defense strategy to deal with Gaza for the day after.
In lieu of such a strategy, many call despairingly for "Separation Now" as a substitute for "Peace Now". Such a substitute would be, in most Arab eyes at least, seen as retreat under fire and apocalypse for the Jews. Israel's message, as received, would be that the only thing wrong with terror is that there has to be more of it, not less.
While no Jewish settlement in Gaza should be abandoned to terror, there can be a framework built now for that day when final settlement talks begin. At that time Israel can propose measures that would provide territorial contiguity for 90% of Gaza's Palestinian Arabs, a bearable demographic concern for Gaza's Palestinian Jews and minimal bi-lateral transfer for both populations.
This could be done by annexation of the northern Gaza settlements directly contiguous to Israel as well as Gush Katif with its southern Rafiah hinterland through Morag along the current truck road to Hevel Shalom. Israel's international border with Egypt along the current Philadelphi Corridor would thus become truly inviolable in the best long-term security interests of both countries.
Planning now for the eventual incorporation into Israel of the Rafiah district with its 7,000 Jews and 150,000 Arabs would be a far cry from Minister Ehud Olmert's scare tactics and doomsday predictions of 8,500 Jews faced off against 1.2 million Arabs. As extrapolated from the 1997 Palestinian Census, the strategically located Rafiah district is fortunately the least populated district in the Strip.
Such a Rafiah Plan would demonstrate to all that there are permanent costs to Palestinian Arab terror and not rewards. It would also be in keeping with President Bush's acknowledgment that major Jewish settlement areas should be taken into consideration in any final agreement - what is good for Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim is equally good for Gush Katif.
At the same time, it would allow the rest of the Gaza Strip with its 1.1 million people to have full territorial contiguity and autonomy without any chokepoints. All access into Gush Katif would be from the Western Negev through the southern Rafiah hinterland thus providing for the full "separation" so desired by the majority of Israelis.
A permanent agreement with a democratic Palestinian Arab entity could easily provide it with a secure corridor to Egypt from the rest of Gaza, just as one could be agreed for traffic to the West Bank of the Jordan River and beyond. For the longer term, Israel would thus still promote structures for living together in this one Land since we hold it in common bond with the Arabs of Palestine / Eretz Yisrael.
During such an eventual negotiation on final status, there may be an issue of compensation for land lost by the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza. On the assumption that land would be a key issue at that time rather than other resources, Israel might propose compensation in land along the armistice lines that currently bound the Strip. Another option could be the creation of islands or a land strip off the coast together with resurrection of the famous "Med-Dead" canal project. All such suggestions postulate a total rejection of any forced transfer - neither of Jew nor Arab.
The 150,000 Arabs of Rafiah could be progressively given the fruits of democracy via Israeli citizenship and national civic service - for them, as for all Israeli Arabs. Increasing segments of the Rafiah population would be a test model for the eventual creation of "New Palestine" (please refer to the separate article on this topic appearing in Hopeways). Such a project would bolster the determination of future democratic Palestinian Arab governance in the rest of the Land to Choose Life, not Death.
There is still time for Israel to come up with a shelf-plan with which she can live, rather than die - one based on clear political, security and demographic thinking, not fears; a plan for implementation only after terrorism has been defeated and democracy reigns throughout the Land and for all the inhabitants thereof.
Aaron Bashani, 8/July/2004