Maybe Gaza should paddle its own canoe

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Hamas say they’re not playing ball because elections will reinforce Palestine’s internal divisions.

Hamas leaders Khaled Meshaal (L) and Ismail Hanniyeh

By Stuart Littlewood / STAFF WRITER

So Hamas are not coming out to play at the elections the Palestinian Authority wants to hold before September.

And who can blame them? Last time, I hear, President Abbas and his gruesome crew wouldn’t allow Hamas to contest the elections under their own party name… and they still lost, went into a sulk, turned quisling and deeply shamed the Palestinian people.

Ever since, the Fatah-dominated PA has worked hand-in-glove with Israel and deployed its Western-funded thugs to prevent Hamas from ‘developing’ the West Bank electorally.

Hamas say they are not playing ball because elections will reinforce Palestine’s internal divisions. In any case, Abbas and prime minister Fayyad have no legitimate authority to organize and supervise such elections and Hamas will not give them recognition or cover to do so.

As usual, Abbas has things back to front. Resistance factions are surely right in insisting on unity first. The continuing political fragmentation and the physical separation of the two territories have led to serious violations of the conditions that must prevail for genuinely free and fair elections to take place.

The PCHR (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) has just issued a position statement, which includes the following:

“Any presidential, legislative, or local elections require certain conditions necessary for the organization of fair and transparent elections that reflect the will of voters. These conditions most notably include the upholding of public freedoms, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the freedom of association; the release of all political prisoners; the lifting of prohibitions imposed on political activities (Hamas activities in the West Bank and Fatah activities in the Gaza Strip); as well as permission for all print, audio and visual media institutions to operate freely.

“PCHR points to the serious and unprecedented deterioration of public freedoms and the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights in PNA territories.  According to PCHR monitoring and investigations, the vast majority of intra-Palestinian human rights violations were motivated by the political fragmentation.”

This shows just how toxic the Abbas regime’s rule has been to Palestinian prospects. Obviously there’s a lot of behind-scenes work to do before Palestinians can go to the polls.

Mind the gap!

Let’s face it: the clowns who drew up – and agreed – the boundaries for Partition in 1947 must have been bribed, or stoned out of their minds, to propose an Arab state with two non-contiguous territories and one of them landlocked.

Palestinians are nearly always denied permission to travel between them. But in October 1999 Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement for a road route across the 28-mile gap between the Gaza Strip and the land-locked West Bank. The Israelis said it would open “in a week or two”, but they’d control permits for the corridor and monitor the traffic.

To take advantage of this “safe passage” running from the Erez Crossing to Tarkumiyeh, near Hebron, Palestinians would have to apply for permits in advance, a process that could take up to five days. Travel would be restricted to daytime, the last vehicle leaving the corridor by 5pm.

Ehud Barak, then Israel’s Prime Minister, told the Knesset that the land route was only temporary and he hoped to build a flyover linking the Palestinian zones.

Of course, like everything the Israelis control the corridor wasn’t going to work without maximum humiliation and aggravation for Palestinians, but the diplomatic dummies in the West hailed it as evidence of a new spirit of co-operation in the Middle East peace process.

In 2007 the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs http://www.jcpa.org/text/TheSafePassage.pdf was saying: “There is… no reason to believe that a Palestinian State, lacking a territorial link between the West Bank and Gaza, will not be viable, where ‘viable’ is understood as capable of independent existence.” It cited several other examples where states comprise non-contiguous territories, such as East and West Timor, and Argentina. Of course, these all have direct links by sea. Gaza and the West Bank haven’t.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority, in January 2006, came up with a proposal for an air corridor http://www.ajtransparency.com/files/531.pdf based on the 1944 Chicago Convention.  As a matter of principle, States are obliged to allow access to their airspace for the purpose of transit to the aircraft of other Contracting States and, subject to certain provisions (reasons of public safety, national security or military necessity), are prevented from discriminating against such aircraft on the grounds of their nationality. The ability of a State to prevent the civil aircraft of other States from using the designated airways within its sovereign airspace is strictly limited. In practice, however, it may be difficult to enforce the basic right of flight over another State’s airspace.

The Convention establishes the responsibilities and obligations of Contracting States to provide for the free movement of international air transport services. “In terms of the right of passage for foreign aircraft through Israeli airspace,” says the CAA, “the Transit Agreement as read with the Convention itself is of critical importance. Israel is a signatory to both the Convention and the Transit Agreement and therefore bound by the provisions of those documents.”

The CAA also points to the provisions of the Geneva Convention on the High Seas 1958 and in particular article 3 (now largely superseded by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, article 125), which recognises the right of states with no sea-coast to have access to the sea. “To that end the signatory states situated between the sea and states having no sea-coast shall, by common agreement with the latter and in conformity with existing international conventions, accord to that state, on the basis of reciprocity, free transit through their territory.

“To the extent that a part of the future state of Palestine, namely the West Bank, will have no sea-coast, then the provisions of the Conventions might be considered applicable to the future relationship between Palestine and Israel, even though the latter is not yet a signatory…”

The previous year, in June 2005, Israel’s then Prime Minister Sharon had authorised The Palestinian Authority to prepare Gaza airport for reopening and announced that Israel would transfer control of Bethlehem and Qalqilyah.

This was followed by a declaration by US Secretary of State Rice that the United States was “committed to connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank” and to the “freedom of movement for the Palestinian people”.

The CAA’s proposal included a number of options all of which assumed that Palestine will eventually sign the Chicago Convention and be entitled to all rights and privileges that flow from it, including the basic rights of access to the airspace of the other Contracting States.

It suggested that, when negotiating with Israel, the Palestinians seek an agreement for a contiguous vertical dimension to the territorial corridor to enable access by very light aircraft and/or helicopters for monitoring the traffic using it and for the purposes of search and rescue, medical or casualty evacuation and emergency control and recovery. This vertical dimension could be limited to 1,000 feet in height and a maximum of 1 to 2 nautical miles in width, sufficient for flights under Visual Flight Rules only.

The Palestinians should also seek agreement for an air corridor between Gaza International Airport and the West Bank (possibly via the Reporting Point of Beer-Sheba).  This could be restricted to between 5,000 and 10,000 feet in height and up to 10 miles in width within Israeli airspace.

What if…

Pigs may fly before any of this happens. And nobody is going to put themselves in a position (again) where Israel can suddenly throw a security wobbly and switch off a whole nation’s right to movement and trade, and bring about economic ruination.

And can Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank ever become lovingly reunited? Probably not without a Cairo-style revolution and UN-guaranteed land and air corridors.

So what if Hamas decided that a two-state Holy Land is simply not workable, and that their best bet is to develop the Gaza Strip as an independent coastal enclave as soon as some degree of border normalization is established? All they need do is sit back, smile more, do whatever is needed to boost their appeal, wait for the blockade to be lifted and go it alone, trading with the rest of the world via land (through liberated Egypt), sea and air.

If left to their own devices they would surely prosper.

But what happens to the landlocked West Bank? Maybe the single state solution comes a step closer.

[email protected]Stuart Littlewood

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