IN THE LONG and drawn-out conflict between the two factions in Israel, most Palestinians have been campaigning for a two-state solution: an independent Palestinian state existing alongside the Jewish state. But as internal Palestinian divisions between the secular Fatah and fundamentalist Hamas organisations persist, the Palestinians may find themselves with a two-state solution they had not bargained for--the West Bank and the Gaza Strip separating. This is a strategic threat to Palestinian aspirations of statehood, and one many Israelis endorse.
The West Bank and Gaza, geographically separated by a 40km-wide swathe of the Negev desert, are part of historical Palestine and were to have been joined at a point southwest of Jerusalem under the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Before the 1967 war the former was under Jordanian authority and the latter was governed by Egypt. Jordan, which annexed the West Bank in 1950, did much to develop the region. Egypt's rule over Gaza was notable only for its neglect.
Since the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, the hard-won Palestine National Authority (PNA) has disintegrated into the feuding power centres that previously only Arafat had been able to control. These days, the West Bank is dominated by Fatah, which has controlled Palestinian politics since the early 1960s, while Gaza has become the stronghold of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas after crushing Fatah forces there in several months of internecine violence.
This rivalry continues to bedevil efforts to form a unity government, and only exacerbates the differences between the two territories.
As hopes of a viable Palestinian state fade in the face of constant Israeli encroachment in the West Bank and the punitive destruction of Palestinian economy, the end of a century of bloodshed in the Holy Land seems far away.
In early March, Shalom Hariri, a leading Israeli specialist on Palestinian affairs, noted: "We're seeing the beginning of two states--a state of Gaza under Hamas control and the state of the West Bank governed from Ramallah."
Israel has long sought to divide Palestinian society to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The former PNA planning minister, Ghassan Khatib, says this "intentional and systematic policy of separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip" is a key Israeli strategy "vis-a-vis the Occupied Territories" along with the continued expansion of West Bank settlements to...