A Palestinian state in Gaza-Sinai: The real two-state solution

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After a whirlwind trip to the United Kingdom last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was afforded just 30 minutes with embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That window was just wide enough for the fledgling U.K. leader to press the Israeli PM on the importance of moving toward a two-state solution. 

But, to create a truly sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian state should be created in the Gaza Strip and the northern Sinai Peninsula along the lines suggested by the New State Solution working group. 

Such a solution would create the territorial contiguity so lacking in previous visions of a Palestinian state. A key reason prior visions failed is that they offered no practical solution to the geographical divide between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, calling instead for three de facto states — Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. 

A Gaza-Sinai state would allow Palestinians to control an independent political entity without heavy reliance upon Israel.

The West Bank is landlocked by Israel and Jordan. It lacks an airport, sea port or independent resources. A Gaza-Sinai state would have international port access while minimizing friction with Israel. It would allow Palestinians to disconnect from Israel and gain independent water, electricity and fuel sources for the first time. 

By now it is clear that both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza seek to maintain status quo and will reject any offer put on the table. 

Yet a solution backed by Arab powers and accompanied by pressure from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar would make rejection far more difficult, particularly if it is presented by the Arab states themselves.

Firstly, dominant Arab powers should adopt the idea. Thereafter, support could be garnered from the great powers — the U.S., Russia, China and the European Union. The momentum emanating from this joint support would impede further efforts at rejectionism.

Within Israel, such an initiative likely would receive broad public support from the political spectrum. Under such an arrangement, the status quo would be maintained in Jerusalem and the holy sites, with the Jordanian Waqf continuing to promote Islamic interests in the city. 

Palestinians who remain in the West Bank would receive a legally defined residency status, while those seeking to move to the new state could do so. 

From a security and air defense perspective, a Palestinian state in Gaza-Sinai would promote conditions that would improve the region.

The New State Solution recognizes the reality of new “firepower wars” in the region, in which projectiles easily cross borders. This reality is replacing the 20th century model of clashes between militaries involving armored and infantry offensives — recent events with Hezbollah are just one example. 

A Palestinian state in the West Bank would reduce Israel to the width of just nine miles across its narrow shoulders between Netanya and the West Bank city of Kalkilya. That would endanger Israel’s population center and economic hub by placing it within range of short-range projectiles.

Israel would receive a security boost by removing the threat of a rocket base rising up in the West Bank highlands and minimizing the resources needed to secure its eastern front. This advantage holds true even though, with modern missiles and rockets, the precise location of enemy entities is less relevant than in the past. 

A new Palestinian state in Gaza-Sinai certainly won’t make the situation in Gaza any worse. It could significantly improve things by opening the door to eventual normalization with Israel. 

It is true that if the Gaza-Sinai state turns out to be hostile, it could threaten Israel with a range of projectiles. However, this is the case today with Gaza, where terror factions possess over 20,000 rockets.

Israel would be better able to defend itself if it could prevent the emergence of deadly West Bank projectile threats and if an independent Palestinian state moved south, behind a defined perimeter.

The New State Solution would go beyond alleviating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It could fortify an emerging Middle Eastern alliance composed of moderate Sunni Arab states and Israel, which seeks to confront Iran as the true challenge to the area’s peace and prosperity. 

By recruiting dominant Arab states — first and foremost Egypt, but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states — to this new vision of Palestinian statehood, the Sunni bloc could strengthen its overall strategic standing, formalize ties with Israel and train its full focus on Iran’s radical, destabilizing actions, most notably, the Iranian nuclear project.

The New State Solution dovetails with a rising regional and global trend. Most states and coalitions today are driven by common interests, with ideology taking a back seat to those. Iran and the Shi’ite axis are the exception. The New State Solution harnesses that trend, offering Egypt — which is beset by chronic economic challenges — an attractive economic package in exchange for agreement to lease land for the future Palestinian state in Sinai. 

This solution rests on Egyptian recognition that it would serve Cairo’s core interests  and on its willingness to be a central player in promoting the initiative. It would involve investing billions of dollars into Sinai to build up the infrastructure required for the future state. The Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” conference mentioned raising such sums from Gulf states for the Palestinians. That money could be used to develop Gaza and Sinai.

A New State Solution also could help Egypt improve its internal security. An economically ascendant Sinai could aid in alleviating some of the conditions that have caused local Bedouins to fall prey to ISIS ideology in that area

Sinai could be transformed from a barren desert with continuous counter-insurgency operations to a land of factories, economic hubs and migration over a 10- to 15-year period. This would help Egypt regain its place as the leader of the Arab world — a status Cairo still seeks and to which it could return.

No solution is perfect or without problems, but faced with the alternative of doing nothing, the New State Solution offers an opportunity to shape the regional reality — one that could be the genesis of an agenda that may resolve this lengthy conflict. 

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Zvika Haimovich concluded more than 33 years of military service in 2018, holding a final position of Commander of the Israel Air Defense Forces, with chief command of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems.

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Gaza Strip Israel Israeli–Palestinian conflict Palestinian nationalism Two-state solution West Bank

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