What is Gaza to the West Bank?
August 6, 2014 1:01 PM   Subscribe

What is the modern political and cultural connection between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?

It's been bothering me that I don't really know this. All of the recent news reports seem to conflate 'Palestine' and 'Gaza,' in a way that doesn't really explain where the West Bank fits into all this.

I want to know about the political/organizational relationship as it stands today, and also the cultural aspect (like, how do Gazans and people in the West Bank think of each other, what do they have in common, what don't they have in common). I'm looking for book recommendations, any online resources, or just in-thread explanations if you have them.
posted by showbiz_liz to Law & Government (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps it's a simple as both Gaza and the West Bank being the Palestinian territories?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

See also: How to Connect the West Bank and Gaza Strip (The Atlantic, Oct 27 2011)

Middle East Forum has an article titled A Gaza-West Bank Split? Why the Palestinian Territories Might Become Two Separate States, detailing more of the "tribal" (their terminology) make-up of the two territories.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:38 PM on August 6, 2014

Best answer: Oof, other people are going to be able to add more than me with more references, but here's a quick-and-dirty:

Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by many world powers but not all world powers, in effect controls Gaza. They're not the government, but they more or less supplant government services and are de facto rulers of Gaza.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which is the government government, acts more or less solely as a civil entity and provides limited governmental services. Because there is generally more stability in the West Bank than in Gaza, Palestinians there tend to be more able to work and engage in leisure. (I'm not saying it's great, but they're doing better than in Gaza.) There are all sorts of theories for why West Bank Palestinians have it better than Gazans, and I won't get into that here since that's not why you asked and this isn't a thread to debate it.

The two factions - Hamas and PLC - regard one another dubiously, as a result of the "Palestinian Civil War" which most people outside the Middle East have never heard of. In 2007, after several years of tense relations, Hamas and Fatah basically split. Hamas took over Gaza, PLC stayed in the West Bank, and because they are geographically separated and because Hamas isolates residents from Western influence much more strongly as a function of sharia law, the citizenry of each territory don't interact much if at all.
posted by juniperesque at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: There are all sorts of theories for why West Bank Palestinians have it better than Gazans, and I won't get into that here since that's not why you asked and this isn't a thread to debate it.

I wouldn't mind hearing these theories actually- if you don't want to post them here, could you memail me?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:11 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have sent you two long memails about that. This thread is not the place for it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:18 PM on August 6, 2014

Just to briefly add to juniperesque's fine survey of the situation:

Hamas actually won parliamentary elections in 2006; see here. It's not like they just took over Gaza out of nowhere.
posted by number9dream at 8:28 PM on August 6, 2014

The two factions - Hamas and PLC - regard one another dubiously

To highlight this, which I think is somewhat crucial, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) once headed by Yasir Arafat is actually an umbrella organization formed in the 1950s by basically all the major exile organizations. Fatah was at first an opponent, but eventually one of these member organizations, and Arafat's affiliation; by 1970 they were the dominant faction. They were committed to armed struggle as the means of liberation. When the PLO was persuaded to move toward a negotiated peace, which began with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, a schism began between those who were willing to accept Israeli occupation as a stage in the struggle, and those who were not.

Hamas, which did not even exist in the beginning, was never part of the PLO mindset. They were formed with the assistance of Hezbollah in Lebanon and other supportive entities, which it has been alleged, included the Mossad and the CIA. (Endless rabbit hole there.) The goal of any US/Israeli involvement would have been undercutting and diminishing the power of Fatah and in particular Arafat. Regardless of whether this is the case, Hamas was able to secure a geographic foothold in Gaza for many logistical reasons (like the external access to the Mediterranean) that they never were in the West Bank (surrounded on all sides by Israel and the Israeli-friendly -- at least beginning after the 1973 war -- Jordan). When the intifadas failed, the PLO went to the bargaining table and became the PLC (or the PA, Palestinian Authority, more generally), initially with control over both areas.

The difference between the two regions has much less to do with any ethnic, tribal, or cultural identity than with this specific history. There continue -- at least when not blockaded -- to be direct connections and many familial relations between the two areas. But they have diverged politically and the West Bank is still run by people who signed and honored the Oslo Accords, and who have much to lose if they were to back down from that, including hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that comes from the US and Europe. Hamas feels no such loyalty, and as you may imagine, spits on it. To them, the PA and Abbas are collaborators with the enemy.
posted by dhartung at 10:16 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is also worth noting that, like many Religious organizations taking over a weak state run by kleptocrats, Hamas' as a municipal/political organization is perceived as much less overtly corrupt than the PA/PLC. (See taliban etc in afghanistan).

One of the supposed reasons why they are more popular with a wider range of people than their theocratic philosophy would suggest is that they get the garbage taken out, the clinics built etc, with much less graft, and thus their acceptance in Gaza was easier to swallow.
posted by lalochezia at 8:15 AM on August 7, 2014

I am late to this party but I wanted to add that Max Fisher's column on vox is an excellent, readable source on current events. He provides thorough context and is so good at breaking down these huge issues. link
posted by pintapicasso at 1:30 PM on August 7, 2014

This recent LRB article is the single most informative thing I've yet read about the current state of Hamas/PA relations and the role that plays in the current Gaza conflict.
posted by zeri at 1:31 PM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Probably this is all in the links people have posted, but just in case, here are the main reasons that Gaza and the West Bank are thought of as a single unit:

1. Neither of them existed as a political or cultural entity before the 1948 war; their boundaries are simply where the armistice lines happened to fall. Both have been geographically and culturally part of Palestine/Eretz Israel/whatever you want to call it for as long as that concept has existed. Their inhabitants speak the same dialect of Arabic and have the same background: either Palestinians who happened to live in those regions before 1948, or refugees from what is now Israel who happened to end up in one or the other territory.

2. Although Gaza borders Egypt (and was occupied by it between 1948 and 1967), the part of Egypt that it borders is the Sinai desert, which is largely uninhabited. To drive from Gaza to any major Egyptian population center would take the better part of a day; to drive from Gaza to Hebron, Ramallah or Jerusalem would take an hour or less (were it not for checkpoints).

3. The restrictions on travel between Gaza and the West Bank (and between both and the state of Israel) are something relatively new. Up until the early nineties movement between the three territories was largely free. (When I was growing up in Tel Aviv in the 1980s our greengrocer was from Gaza, and presumably made the easy commute every day.) Since then the restrictions have intensified in several stages (after the second Intifada and again after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005), but many people in Gaza still remember when they could visit the West Bank without any difficulty.
posted by zeri at 7:34 PM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

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