Road of Peace: Linking the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Rest of the West Bank
August 01, 2005
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, cannot individually form independent economic and political units. Together, however, they will form the basis of a secure, prosperous, and free Palestinian state.
Though geographically distinct, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank legally constitute one territorial unit, as recognized by the international community as well as Israel in the Oslo Accords. Yet each possesses unique characteristics. For example, the West Bank boasts water resources and the sacred city of Jerusalem; the Gaza Strip has natural gas, an airport, and access to the Mediterranean Sea.
If Palestinians were able to freely move within the occupied Palestinian territory and beyond, they would finally be free to take charge of their lives, building a stable economy and a brighter future for all. Because of the actual and potential interdependency of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, joining the two regions the day after “Disengagement” represents an essential component of ending 38 years of Israeli occupation and a necessary step to building peace, security and democracy in the region.
Synergy: Actual and Potential Interdependencies
Israel’s isolation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank has stifled economic, political, and cultural exchange within the occupied Palestinian territory. If linked, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will complement one another economically, politically, and culturally:
Markets: Metropolitan East Jerusalem, which comprises Ramallah, East Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, accounts for 30% to 40% of all of the economic activity in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. It is an international market that attracts tourists and pilgrims from around the world. If Gazans and their goods had free access to this market, the whole of the Palestinian economy would benefit. Similarly, one-third of the Palestinian population living in the occupied Palestinian territory lives in the Gaza Strip. This represents an important potential marketplace for goods and services from the West Bank. Finally, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank open complementary access to international markets: The Gaza Strip has an airport, access to the Mediterranean Sea, and a border with Egypt; the West Bank borders Jordan.
Political Institutions: Legally and politically, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip comprise one territorial unit. The future capital of the Palestinian state will be in East Jerusalem and it is where most of the national institutions for the West Bank and Gaza are, or will be, based. For the national government to fulfill its obligations to the Palestinian people and their security, it needs unfettered access to all parts of the occupied Palestinian territory.
Resources: Water, electricity and gas need to be shared between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank has water while the Gaza Strip suffers from a crisis in shortage and quality. The Gaza Strip has a rich natural gas reserve in its territorial waters, which could be converted to electricity, while the West Bank currently relies completely on Israel for electricity and natural gas.
Culture: The major Muslim and Christian holy sites are located in East Jerusalem. Gazans have the same right of freedom of worship in these holy places as West Bankers should; and this third of the Palestinian population must not be denied access to their holy sites. Moreover, Palestinians from throughout the occupied Palestinian territory have familial and social ties to East Jerusalem and many have historically relied on its services, particularly in the fields of health care and education.
Building the Link(s)
A variety of proposals have been considered and analyzed to create a territorial link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and some feasibility studies have been conducted. Proposals range from bundling a wide range of services into one comprehensive link, or creating a number of separate links for transportation and utilities. Any sustainable link(s) would need to include provisions for the following:
Road: Not only do Palestinians need to be able to drive freely within the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but in order to build their economy and democracy, they need to be able to travel freely between the two regions as well.
Rail: A rail link would provide additional options for transporting goods and people. When Gaza’s airport and seaport are fully functional, and when the West Bank’s border is open to Jordan, the rail link could significantly contribute to Palestine’s development by allowing secure and reliable transport of a greater variety of goods.
Air: In addition to ground access, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would benefit from an air corridor as well. While development of a Palestinian airport in the West Bank is several years off, Palestinians would enjoy the right under international law to travel by air within the future Palestinian state as well as to the rest of the world.
Electricity: Now, Palestinians serve as a captive civilian market for Israel. Consequently, Palestinians pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world. If allowed to develop the Palestinian electrical grid within and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinians could eventually reduce dependence on Israel and enter the competitive international market.
Gas: Natural gas reserves of very high-quality lie in Gaza’s territorial waters. There are a number of potential uses for this gas, including converting it to electricity, shipping it to foreign markets (via Egypt), or transferring it for use in the West Bank.
Water: Currently, the Gaza Strip suffers from a water crisis. Because of illegal Israeli policies, Gazans do not have enough water, and the water that they do have is typically of poor quality. Meanwhile, the northern West Bank is rich in high-quality water resources. Although Israel diverts Palestinian water resources and prevents Palestinians from using their fair share of the remainder, a water link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could alleviate some of Gaza’s thirst. Moreover, should the West Bank suffer a water shortage in the future, the Gaza Strip has access to the sea. A desalination plant in Gaza would then enable the provision of quality water to the West Bank.
Free Access: Economies and cultures depend on reliability and consistency. Palestinians must be able to control the links, to ensure that people, goods, and resources can reasonably expect to move freely between the two regions of the future Palestinian state.
In the Meantime, “Safe Passage”
Pending the agreement over and construction of a fully-functional territorial link, Israel must open a “safe passage” the day after evacuation. Such safe passage must allow for secure and reliable Palestinian movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The day after “Disengagement” presents an opportunity. Now, the newly-elected Palestinian Leadership has two goals: to nurture the emerging Palestinian democracy; and to negotiate a just and viable peace with Israel, based on international law. Freedom of movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would provide the Palestinian Leadership an essential tool in achieving both these goals:
With a secure and reliable safe passage Palestinians could help lift themselves out of economic and humanitarian crisis. Economic and social stability are the building blocks of security for all; and
With a secure and reliable safe passage, Palestinians could build the infrastructure of democracy. Not only could Palestinians freely campaign and register to vote, but the Palestinian Leadership could more effectively manage Palestinian security.
Now, however, Palestinians not only lack the option of travelling freely between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but they are also restricted from travelling freely within the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Without freedom of movement within the West Bank, and without free access to occupied East Jerusalem, an interim safe passage and eventual territorial link will be meaningless.