21 May 2009, by
One of the happiest moments in my life occurred in a restaurant.
It happened before the second intifada. I had invited Rachel to celebrate her birthday with dinner at a famous restaurant in Ramallah.
We were sitting in the garden under strings of colorful lights, the air was fragrant with the perfume of flowers and the waiters were hurrying back and forth with laden trays. We ate Mussakhan, the Palestinian national dish (chicken with tahini baked on pita bread), and I drank arak. Our waiter, who had overheard us talking, took our order in Hebrew. We were the only Israelis there. At the nearby tables, Arab families with the children in their best clothes, as well as a bride and groom with their wedding guests. Bursts of laughter punctuated the murmur of Arabic conversations, and spirits were high.
I was happy, and a sigh escaped me: “How wonderful this country could be, if only we had peace!”
I THINK of that moment every time I hear sad news from Ramallah. The news is depressing, but the memory helps me to keep alive my hope that things could be different.
The most depressing news concerns the split between the Palestinians themselves. This split is a disaster for them, and, I believe, also for Israel and the world at large. That’s why I dare to comment on a matter that seemingly does not concern us Israelis. It does.
It is easy to blame Israel. Easy and also justified. In their struggle against the national aspirations of the Palestinians, successive Israeli governments have applied the old Roman maxim divide et impera, divide and rule.
Since the Oslo agreement, the central component of this policy has been the physical separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Article IV of the Oslo Agreement of September 1993 says: “The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved”.
Article X of Annex 1 of the Interim Agreement of September 1995 says: “There shall be a safe passage connecting the West Bank with the Gaza Strip for movement of persons, vehicles and goods…Israel will ensure safe passage for persons and transportation during daylight hours…in any event not less than 10 hours a day.”
In practice, the safe passage was never opened. Among all the blatant violations of the Oslo agreements, this was the most severe. Its consequences have been disastrous for both sides.
True, there was a lot of talking about the passage. Ehud Barak once fantasized about constructing a giant bridge between the West Bank and the Strip, after seeing such a 40 km long bridge somewhere abroad. Others spoke about a tunnel underneath Israeli territory. Yet others proposed an extraterritorial highway or railway. None of these ideas was ever implemented. On the contrary, while before Oslo there had been free movement for all, including the inhabitants of the occupied territories, after Oslo this freedom was abolished.
THE PRETEXT was – as always – security: convoys of murderers and terrorists would pack the safe passage, trucks loaded with Palestinian rockets would drive to and fro. But the consequences disclose the true aim: what remained of Palestine was cut into two disconnected parts.
One cannot rule a territory without physical contact with it. That was proven in Pakistan, which was founded as a state with two disconnected parts separated by Indian territory. Soon enough, war between the two broke out and the Eastern part became the independent state of Bangladesh.
According to the latest Palestinian statistics, which seem reliable, there are now 2.42 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and 1.46 million in the Gaza Strip (in addition to 379 thousand in East Jerusalem). From Yasser Arafat I once heard that more than half of the Palestinian Authority’s resources were being devoted to the Gaza Strip, in spite of the fact that the Strip amounted to only 6% (one sixteenth) of the Palestinian territories.
Now there exist in practice two Palestinian entities: the West Bank, whose actual capital is now Ramallah, and the Gaza Strip, with its capital Gaza city. From the political, economic and ideological points of view, the distance between them is growing.