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Why not international border for Gaza?

Buried in today's New York Times's lead story, "Hamas and Abbas Clash over path for Palestinians ," as it has been whenever it has come up in recent days, is the possibility that Israel will institute international border-style checkpoints at the popular Gaza crossing in Erez and Karni.

Somehow, this sort of action is seen as hostile and negative, just one more of Israel's "unilateral" steps to make life difficult for the Palestinians.


Don't all the Palestinian factions -- Fatah, Hamas, the PLO, the Palestine Authority -- want to set up Palestine as an independent state? Then why shouldn't a border crossing between a state of Palestine and the state of Israel be set up as an international crossing, with all the necessary security and customs restrictions that go with such crossings all over the world?

The reason the Palestinians object to such a move, of course, is this would make it more difficult for Palestinians to work day jobs in Israel. (It would also, by the way, make it more difficult for Palestinian suicide bombers to cross over into Israel villages and towns and cities.)

It's time for the Palestinians to grow up and build the state that for so long they say they want. For far too long they've been feeding at the trough of Israel and its main backer, the United States. If they want a state of their own, fine. They've been given all of Gaza (despite the world outcry AGAINST Israel's withdraw from that territory -- is this a Catch-22 or what?), and plans proceed for Israel to turn over major portions of West Bank territory to the PA.

It's also time for the Arab/Muslim world that pays so much lip service to defending the Palestinians and castigating Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians to begin writing the checks that will help fund the nascent Palestinian state. For almost a century, Jews all over the world have been footing the bill for Israel through the Jewish Agency; perhaps the Arab world can take a cue from that and help their brother Palestinians stand on their own two feet.

That is, unless they're not REALLY in favor of an independent Palestinian state -- perhaps what they're REALLY in favor of is using the Palestinian cause as a constant irritant against the Jewish state whose very existence they oppose, AND/OR what they really want is to drive the Jews out of Israel and turn it over to the so-called Palestinians.

Seth, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. Bravo!
--Bill Vogt

Hi, Seth.

I'm a great fan of your reviews and I'm always pleased to hear you on WAMC. Your piece on Gaza saddened me and I could not quite get it out of my head... I hope you will not mind if I respectfully offer a different perspective.

I think it's worth noting the roots of Palestinian labor dependence on Israel. Before 1967, there were virtualy no Palestinians employed in Israel. After the 1967 war, having gained possession of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel decided to merge the two economies and facilitate Palestinian labor migration. Israel's economy benefited from the availability of cheap Arab labor in areas like domestic service, agriculture, sanitation, and so on that were undesirable to Israelis. One of the major changes in the Kibbutz movement, for example, was the increasing use of Arab workers for manual labor after 1967.

At the same time, Israel imposed high tarifs on Palestinian exports, making them non-competitive in the international market. It also restricted non-Israeli imports, and flooded the Palestinian market with Israeli goods. Thus, the occupied territories became a captive labor force and market. This was one of the main driving forces behind Israel's economic growth from 1970 to 1990. During this time, Israel also took control of the bulk of the natural resources of the West Bank and Gaza - particularly, the water supply.

For the Palestinians, the result was a shift from an agricultural/manufacturing economy to a wage-driven economy highly dependent on Israel. For the first two decades, Palestinian unemployment fell and per capita income rose; but the capacity for self-sufficiency declined.

The situation changed in the 1990s with the two intifadas. As a counterinsurgency tactic, Israel began to impose closures and restrictions on internal movement. Over the past decade or so, these have been so severe as to essentially cripple the Palestinian economy (see last year's World Bank report for a detailed analysis).

Changing the Eretz and Karni checkpoints into an international border is being proposed by Israel as a punitive measure. It shouldn't be any suprise that the Palestinian leadership opposes it. The border restrictions under consideration would greatly impede movement of goods and people and increase tarifs on Palestinian products. This would cut Gaza's economy off at the knees. The Palestinians have successfully assumed management of greenhouses and industrial zones in Gaza, but this is meaningless without the ability to export.

The Palestinians never asked to form a state in Gaza alone. I don't think anyone would argue seriously that Gaza could be a viable independent nation even under ideal circumstances. Without Israel's cooperation, Gaza's economy cannot function. In addition to the trade and labor issues, Gaza's water and electrical supply come from Israel. The disengagement left a Palestinian territory that is anything but independent.

We cannot simply wash our hands of Gaza. For one thing, it's unethical. We created the mess there. It happened on our watch. Even if the Palestinian Authority was corrupt, the territory was in our possession and we were the controlling power. Until things went sour, we benefited from our colonialist economic policies in the territories. It seems to me Jewish law is very clear on this point: a person who harms or robs another is resonsible for repairing or compensating for the damage he has done.

Secondly, it would be unwise to allow Gaza to collapse any further into chaos. Social disorder and poverty only create more impetus and more opportunity for violence and terrorism.

We may not like dealing with Hamas; but our strategy must take into consideration our long-term interest in having a stable, democratic state outside Israel's borders instead of a violent insurgency within them.

If we truly want peace, our goal should be to facilitate economic viability and independence in Gaza, while doing what is necessary to protect the security of Israeli citizens. A difficult balancing act, I think, but a necessary one.

Thanks for publishing this comment. All my best!

Sorry, I had meant to sign that --

Andrew Schamess

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