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Dissolve Gaza, Expand the West Bank

Insisting any Palestinian state include the Gaza Strip poses an insuperable obstacle to their self-determination. Gaza became economically unviable after terrorism emanating from the Strip forced Jerusalem decades ago to limits its inhabitants' employment opportunities in Israel. The post-October 7th war then rendered this economically unviable territory uninhabitable. Accordingly, spending tens of billions of dollars rebuilding Gaza defies reason, especially if many Hamas fighters remain. They will prevent any "revamped" Palestinian Authority (PA) from securing Gaza, causing future wars that require the Strip's repeated reconstruction.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration remains "clear, consistent, and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel." Biden favors a revamped PA governing Gaza even as administration officials concede the plan's unfeasibility. Politico quoted a State Department official saying, "We're stuck... There's a strong policy preference for the PA to play a governing role in Gaza, but it has significant legitimacy and capability challenges."

Rather than commit to a self-acknowledged unworkable solution, Washington should advocate dissolving the 141 sq mi Strip and enlarging the 1,352 sq mi West Bank to compensate for Gaza's loss. Investing international aid in developing an expanded West Bank's economy, along with reforming its current regime, is more practical than hoping a revamped PA can supervise Gaza's reconstruction amidst a Hamas-led insurgency. As the West Bank's affluence grows, it can gradually absorb Gazan refugees temporarily settled elsewhere. This approach also removes another longstanding barrier to Palestinian political unity, Gaza not adjoining the West Bank.

Gaza only prospered when fully integrated into Israel's labor market (1968-91). For decades after the Six Day War, Palestinians moved freely from Gaza to Israel, where many found work. That combined with Israeli investment in development projects caused the Strip's GNP to grow during 1968-82 on average by 9.7 percent per annum. However, Jerusalem met increasing terrorism from Gaza with progressively stricter restrictions on Palestinian movement, finally imposing a draconian blockade after Hamas seized power in 2007.

Economic conditions declined during the First Intifada (1987-93) and then deteriorated further when Yasser Arafat's newly installed PA allowed terrorism to worsen following the 1993 Oslo I Accord. In 1992, 116,000 Gazans worked in Israel. By 1996, the number fell to 28,000.

Palestinian terrorist groups commenced shooting rockets at Israel during the Second Intifada (2000-2005) after the Gaza security barrier effectively reduced terrorist infiltration. Their volume increased following Israel's 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza and again after Hamas seized control of the Strip in 2007. Israel responded with a blockade to intercept materials used to manufacture weapons and for other military purposes. The resulting high unemployment meant 63 percent of Gazans relied on international food aid before October 7th.

Hamas-led massacres on that day instigated a war which rendered Gaza uninhabitable. According to a January World Bank report, 45 percent of Gazan homes are destroyed, as well as 46 percent of commercial and industrial buildings. The toll on infrastructure is even greater, destroying or damaging around 57 percent of Gaza's power lines, four of its six power plants, and 92 percent of major roads. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini concluded in December, "Gaza is not really a habitable place anymore."

Meanwhile, American intelligence officials informed members of Congress during a closed-door briefing last week that most Hamas fighters have probably survived Israel's assault while the group's guerilla tactics and extensive tunnel network make degrading its combat effectiveness a more realistic goal than eliminating it. Since the West Bank-based PA regime depends on Israeli military support, expecting its constabulary to secure a Hamas-infested Gaza strains credulity. Resettling Gazan civilians - first in foreign countries and then in an economically developed, enlarged West Bank - would enable Israel to extirpate Hamas before resuming peace negotiations with a reformed PA. Hamas preserving its Gazan territorial base will sustain Palestinian political disunity while empowering the group to derail peace negotiations through massive terrorist attacks.

Despite Gaza clearly being uninhabitable and ungovernable, a consensus developed that any Palestinian state must arise on those parts of British Mandatory Palestine occupied by Arab armies during Israel's War for Independence (1947-49). Gaza's borders merely reflect the 1949 armistice line between Egyptian and Israeli forces. The part seized by Jordan became the West Bank. Consequently, principled opposition to dissolving Gaza and expanding the West Bank is unfounded and blocks the sole economically and politically viable postwar arrangement.