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Momentum builds for Gaza to secede, Israel and West Bank to become one

Gaza and the West Bank have become two irreconcilable entities, many say. Meanwhile, Israelis increasingly support a state shared with West Bank Palestinians, albeit unequally.

By Staff writer / October 24, 2012

Trails of smoke are seen after the launch of rockets from the northern Gaza Strip toward Israel on Oct. 24.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

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Jerusalem

After decades of the "two states for two peoples" blueprint more or less dominating proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace, a new paradigm is gaining momentum. Under this model, Israel absorbs the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians, while Hamas-run Gaza becomes a separate entity aligned with the Middle East’s rising Islamist powers.

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Such a development could potentially improve stability after decades of unresolved conflict, but it represents a blow to Palestinians and their aspirations of statehood as well as to Israelis who see a Palestinian state as essential for their own security. Gaza militants’ firing of more than 70 rockets and mortars into Israel today emphasized the security risk posed to Israel by a rogue neighbor that neither it nor the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) can control. 

A visit to Gaza yesterday by the emir of Qatar, a key member of the region’s emerging Islamist alliance and the first leader to make a state visit since Hamas took over in 2007, underscored the fact that Gaza and the West Bank have since become two distinct – and potentially irreconcilable – entities. Unless that split is resolved, Palestinians can’t present a united front at the peace table with Israel.

“It’s a wonderful excuse [for Israelis] … to say, ‘Until you settle things with yourselves and we have one address and we can talk to the new leadership [peace talks will be postponed],’ ” says Alon Liel, a veteran Israeli diplomat who now works in the private sector. “And you hear more and more [talk] about the possibility of annexing the West Bank or at least finding an agreement that in practical terms [makes it] one state while Gaza will stay on its own or have an agreement with Egypt.”

Israeli Jews have long eschewed the possibility of a single binational state out of fear that it would sooner or later result in an Arab majority, undermining their ideal of a state that is “Jewish and democratic.” While the removal of Gaza from the equation would allow Jews to retain a clear majority, the democracy question is more controversial.

If Israel were to annex the West Bank, 69 percent of Israeli Jews would not want the territory's 2.5 million Palestinians to be allowed to vote, according to a poll published by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz yesterday.

Mr. Liel had a hand in the poll but says he would support it only if it were democratic. “In practical terms, we already have one state,” he says. “The Palestinian Authority is not an independent political unit. It is dependent on Israel for everything, including security. So … many Israelis feel we don’t have negotiations, we don’t have real pressure from outside world to negotiate, on the ground … it’s quiet. So why not continue?”

A September poll carried out jointly by Israeli and Palestinian groups revealed that roughly 30 percent of Israelis and 31 percent of Palestinians support a one-state solution, up from 11 percent and 27 percent respectively four years ago. (Editor's note: This section has been revised and updated to more accurately reflect the most recent polling data.)

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