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New op-ed: Two states the only hope for Gaza normalcy

JTA: The Global News Service of the Jewish People

Op-Ed: Two states the only hope for Gaza normalcy

By Ori Nir · January 25, 2009

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Last week I dug up an old, yellowing Israeli intelligence report from April 1987 headlined "The Gaza Strip toward the year 2000." It was authored by the "Civil Administration," Israel's military government, only several months before the eruption in Gaza of the first intifada.

The secret document, distributed to Israel's top security leadership, provides both a high-resolution snapshot (more than 200 pages) of Gaza and a careful forecast. Amazingly, it predicted a process of multifaceted integration of the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Reading the report, written less than 22 years ago, is like a voyage to ancient history. What the report clearly shows, however, is that policy mistakes and misunderstandings about Gaza are as old as Israel's 41-year-old occupation of the strip.

The population of Gaza in 1987 was 633,600. Today it has climbed to more than 1.5 million. The report predicted that by the year 2000, the strip's population would reach 1 million -- a "maximal forecast" depicted as "unreasonable," meaning unreasonably high. In fact, by 2000, the strip's population had mushroomed to 1.132 million. The fertility rate for 2000 was predicted to drop from 6.60 to 5.80, but it remained at 6.55 and was estimated at 5.19 in 2008.

The report did talk, casually , about the "increase in the strength" of the fundamentalist Islamist political stream, but noted that although the Islamists support Israel's destruction, they believe that their first focus ought to be "preparing the hearts and minds" within their community.

Around that time, as a reporter covering Palestinian affairs, I met with the Israeli governor of Gaza, who told me that Israel had "no problem" with the Islamists because they were not engaged in any subversive or violent activity. To the contrary: Israel's military government in Gaza, dividing and ruling as it always did, gently nurtured the Islamists as a counterweight to the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the 1980s.

The most fascinating -- and today fantastical -- chapter in the report is the one examining the social trends in the strip. It predicted the accelerated socio-political integration of the Gaza Strip into Israel, as well as "an increase in reciprocal dependency between the Gaza Strip and Israel." It predicted the "penetration of the Strip's employees into high-level professions in Israel," and even Gazans' "imitation of the Israeli life style."

So much for that. The Palestinians of Gaza rebelled against Israel's occupation months after the report was issued and have been fighting for independence for more than two decades.

The Palestinians of Gaza, just like their brethren in the West Bank, need and deserve political independence. But the Gaza Strip simply cannot live in political or economic isolation. The 22-year-old Israeli report is clear about that. Its message is that the Gaza Strip has no viability, no future, as an isolated, detached entity.

At the time there was no fence between Israel and Gaza, not even a roadblock or a checkpoint at the entrance to the strip. Today it is impossible to imagine open borders between Israel and Gaza.

Israel will not become again an economic lifeline for Gaza in the foreseeable future. Neither will Egypt, its southern neighbor. Both Israel and Egypt see Gaza as nothing but trouble.

The only real viable hope for Gaza is a link to the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank. Only a strong relationship with the West Bank, reinforced by unhindered safe passage between the two Palestinian territories, can provide the remedy for Gaza. In other words, the only real hope for Gaza lies in the two-state solution.

Israelis and Palestinians must keep in mind that a cease-fire is not an alternative to peace. Israelis and Palestinians, and the international third parties that help them advance toward peace, must remember that just as a two-state solution is the only way in which Israel can secure its long-term character as a Jewish and democratic state, so does the two-state solution provide the only hope for Gaza to reach a reasonable level of normalcy and sustainability in the long run. Only a two-state solution can provide the uninterrupted, robust lifeline to the West Bank that the Gaza Strip needs.

The war and the cease-fire that followed show yet again that only a two-state solution provides a horizon of hope for Israelis and Palestinians to reach the peace and long-term security that they so much deserve.

(Ori Nir, formerly the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, is the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, a Zionist Jewish organization supporting Peace Now, Israel's largest peace movement.)