Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. Formerly a Corps commander, he was also a commander of the IDF Military Colleges. Gen. Hacohen briefed the Middle East Forum in a conference call on June 28, 2018.
The transformation of the Gaza Strip into an ineradicable terror entity poses a formidable security threat to Israel by placing its population centers and strategic infrastructure within the range of Hamas’s rockets and missiles all the way to Tel Aviv, and by allowing the group to breach the border fence and infiltrate Israel via its extensive network of underground tunnels. Should the IDF need to enter Gaza in a future war, Hamas has the ability to exact a heavy toll through its well-organized defensive positions in the cities and refugee camps.
This casts a serious doubt on the viability of the Oslo paradigm of a unified Palestinian entity in the West Bank and Gaza. For one thing, if such an entity should come into being with its likely transformation into a terror stronghold near Israel’s heartland, the Jewish state will face an existential threat.
For another thing, as vividly illustrated by the 25 years since the launch of the Oslo process, there is a deep, perhaps unbridgeable schism between the West Bank and the Gaza populations stemming from their fundamentally divergent historical, sociocultural, and political backgrounds. Hence Mahmoud Abbas’s total indifference to the humanitarian suffering wrought by his suspension of financial aid to Gaza as a means of weakening Hamas.
It is time to consider a new paradigm for resolving the Strip’s problems and, by extension, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and northern Sinai, from Rafah to El-Arish, with the latter territory leased to the Palestinians on a long-term basis.
Such a scenario will, of course, require the consent of Egypt, which has hitherto been averse to any formal connection with Gaza. However, should president Sisi be persuaded of the considerable benefits of the plan (e.g., massive international aid to alleviate Egypt’s economic plight, an Egyptian/Palestinian economic and touristic hub in northern Sinai), it may nevertheless come to fruition.
Until that happens, Israel must continue to manage a situation whereby neither Hamas nor the PLO/PA are ready to accept its very existence, without losing sight of the looming confrontation on its northern border with Iran and its Hezbollah proxy.
Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Communications Coordinator for the Middle East Forum