This article proposes that the ultimate answer to the Israeli-Palestinian Question is destined to be a three-State outcome by reasons of political geography alone. Given the separation of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian-controlled territories on the West Bank by Israel’s Negev Desert, any two-State solution is doomed to fail because the connection and communication between the two disjointed Palestinian territories will be at the caprice of Israel. Historical precedent tends to support the proposition that if the Gaza Strip does not split from a Palestinian State for its own reasons of geographical and ideological separation then the presence of a hostile and physically intervening sovereignty like Israel, with its endless concerns over security, would make the running of a unitary Palestinian State impractical, if not impossible.      

For the better half of the twentieth century, the establishment of an Arab State in Palestine has been on the agenda of the international community with no serious and purposeful prospect for its actualization. Some five years after the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, the Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords, which had been negotiated between them at the invitation of the US President Jimmy Carter. One of the accords was the Framework for Peace in the Middle East,[1] which dealt with the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation since the Arab-Israeli “Six-Day War” of June 1967. The accord called for negotiations to establish an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip consistent with the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after an election of a self-governing authority to replace Israel’s military government in the areas. The other accord was the Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel,[2] which produced the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.[3] The peace treaty provided among other things for the complete withdrawal by Israel of its forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula provided that Egypt agreed to leave the area demilitarized.[4]

The Gaza Strip, on the Mediterranean Coast, borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the south. Its limits were established at the cessation of Arab-Israeli hostilities in 1948 and recognized subsequently in 1949 the Israel-Egypt Armistice Agreement[5] However, the Armistice Agreement declared that the strip’s demarcation line was not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and it was delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either party as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.[6] Egypt at first administered the strip through the All Palestine Government and then directly between 1959 and 1967, before Israeli seized it from Egypt during the Six-Day War.

In 1993, the Oslo Accords—officially called the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or Declaration of Principles[7]—established the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) as an autonomous geopolitical entity with responsibility for the administration of the Gaza Strip. The accords also called for the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Gaza, with Israel still retaining control of the air space, territorial sea and the border crossings with the exception of land border with Egypt. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 under its unilateral disengagement plan and a year later the Islamist Hamas faction of the Palestinian polity won the Palestinian legislative elections. In 2007, Hamas expelled the rival Palestinian party Fatah from Gaza, leaving Fatah to govern the areas of the West Bank.

The most optimistic of proposals for a Palestinian State have referred to the establishment of an independent State for the Palestinian people in Palestinian territories that have been seized by Israel in 1967 from Egypt (the Gaza Strip) and Jordan (the West Bank). Following the US-sponsored Annapolis Conference in November 2007,[8] the concept of a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gained greater currency. A two-State solution envisioned two separate States, Israel as a Jewish State and a Palestinian State made up of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, within to-be-defined borders. In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution[9] that re-affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to independence in their State of Palestine and granted to Palestine non-member observer State status. Further, the resolution affirmed the vision of two States: an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.[10]

In the aforementioned 2012 General Assembly resolution reference was made to an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine. What is one to make of the wish for territorial contiguity? Among the many issues facing the functionality of the would-be State of Palestine will be the separation of one part of it  from the other by the Negev Desert that is a part of Israel. The closest the two parts of the Palestinian State come to one another is 37 kilometers apart. The connecting of the two parts has inspired the imagination of logisticians and engineers alike. Pitifully, the statesmen have yet to consider this potentially troublesome aspect of the two-State solution that they espouse.

As of this writing, the concept of “linkage”—the physical connection of the two Palestinian enclaves—has not taken hold for two reasons; first, politically and strategically the issue had been viewed as secondary to the creation of the State of Palestine; and secondly, the fiscal burden of an actual physical connection of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has argued against the issue. In the mid-1990s, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak suggested to connect the Palestinian enclaves by means of an elevated bridge from Beit Hanoun in Gaza to Dura near Hebron, with four lanes, a railway line, a water pipe, and a communications cable. Barak noted, however, that the cost of nearly $200 million for the project was an obstacle that could not be overcome.[11]

In the absence of Israel ceding to Palestine a strip of the Negev in order to connect the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, or a bridge or tunnel under Palestinian sovereignty, the only other form of communication/transportation connection between enclaves would be a set of assured or guaranteed rights of passage. The idea of safe passage for Palestinians traveling between the two enclaves was indeed a part of the 1995 Oslo II Interim Agreement as an expression of the principle declared in the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles that viewed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit.[12] According to the Sharm El-Sheik Memorandum of September 1999, safe passage was a necessary condition for any negotiations to move towards a permanent solution. The Taba Negotiations in September 2000 specifically mentioned that both sides agreed that there was going to be safe passage from the north of Gaza (Beit Hanoun) to the Hebron district, territorially linking the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[13]

Per Oslo II, the Israeli Defense Forces policed the safe passage agreement. The majority of the safe passage routes used public Israeli roads and so it was not uncommon for the corridors to be shut down on the Palestinian end for security concerns, pitting the Palestinian people, who desired safe, consistent, and readily-accessible passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, against Israel’s legitimate security concerns, especially on issues such as terrorism, drug-running, and smuggling of contraband.[14]

The knot of the issue of linkage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is not as much in the physicality of the infrastructure that could connect the enclaves but rather in the question of who would control the passage and in particular what articles or persons may transit.  While born out of necessity, passage through an intervening hostile sovereignty has often become unworkable.       

The Polish Corridor refers to a strip of land that was taken away by virtue of Article 27 of the Treaty of Versailles (1919)[15] from Germany at the end of World War I and given to Poland so that the latter could have access to the Baltic Sea. That act physically separated Germany from its East Prussian part. However, in Article 89 of the Treaty of Versailles, Poland undertook to accord freedom of transit to persons, goods, vessels, carriages, wagons, and mails in transit between East Prussia and the rest of Germany over Polish territory, including territorial waters, and to treat them at least as favorably as those of Poland or of any favored nation. Goods in transit were to be exempt from all customs or other similar duties. Freedom of transit was to extend to telegraphic and telephonic services under the conditions laid down by international conventions.[16] Not content with this arrangement, the German Ministry for Transport established the Sea Service of East Prussia in 1922 in order to provide a ferry connection to East Prussia so that it would be less dependent on transit through Polish territory.[17]

In a region rife with eternal suspicion and mistrust no less acute between the  Palestinians and the Israelis than was at the time between the defeated Germans and the Poles,  any contractual arrangement along the German-Polish model is not expected to last for long. The added reason for the inadequacy of the German-Polish model is that unlike Germany that could access its other part by sea the West Bank is landlocked and cannot circumvent the Israeli control of its communication with the Gaza Strip, just as movements from Gaza to the West Bank would too be under Israeli control.

More specifically, how would the Palestinians and the Israelis address issues arising in relation to the transit of police and armed forces between the two enclaves of the Palestinian State? The case of Portuguese Enclaves in India illustrates the political and legal difficulty that one country faced in ferrying its police and armed forces from one enclave to another across Indian territory. For nearly 450 years the coastal enclave of Daman on the Arabian Sea and the inland enclave of Dadra had been part of Portuguese India. Dadra was surrounded by territory belonging to the ruler of that part India. Upon independence for from Great Britain, in 1947, India demanded the return of the enclaves to Indian sovereignty. Portugal refused and eventually in July 1954 the local nationalists in Dadra overthrew the Portuguese authority, as India denied passage across its territory to the Portuguese forces dispatched from Daman to deal with the situation in Dadra. This breakdown in the passage regime prevented Portugal to exercise its sovereign rights over its enclaves. The International Court of Justice found that Portugal had in 1954 a right of passage over the intervening Indian territory between the enclaves to the extent necessary for the exercise of Portuguese sovereignty over the enclaves but subject to the regulation and control of India, in respect of private persons, civil officials and goods in general. That right, however, did not extend to passage in respect of armed forces, armed police, arms and ammunition without India’s consent, and where consent was given its existence was neither in perpetuity nor presumed in every instance.

Unlike the previous examples involving an intervening hostile entity between to enclaves, the case of East and West Pakistan offers the added dimension that separation breeds alienation and that alone is cause enough for the enclaves to separate politically.  Contemporaneous with the debate in the mid-1940s about the creation of two homelands for the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, it had become equally clear that the end of the British rule in India would necessitate the division of the subcontinent into separate homelands for the Muslim and Hindu communities. This led to the creation of the independent countries of India and Pakistan in 1947. Because the Muslim regions were on the east and west side of Hindu India, Pakistan by necessity came to consist of West Pakistan and Eastern Bengal, which was renamed East Pakistan in 1955; they being one thousand miles apart. After decades of crises of governance, disparate economic development and divergence of political views, at the end of the Liberation War in 1971 East Pakistan became the independent State of Bangladesh.

Is it not possible that the bifurcated State pf Palestine well end up as a two-State solution of its own—two independent States one in the Gaza Stripe and the other consisting of the Palestinian territories on the other side of the Negev Desert? If that were to be a historical inevitability, should not the architects of the peace process pursue a three-State answer to the Israeli-Palestinian Question.


[1] Israel and Egypt: Framework for peace in the Middle East agreed at Camp David (with annex), signed at Washington on 17 September 1978, 1138 U.N.T.S. 39 (Instrument No. 17853).

[2] Israel and Egypt: Framework for the conclusion of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed at Washington on 17 September 1978, 1138 U.N.T.S 53 (Instrument No. No. 17854).

[3] Israel-Egypt Treaty of Peace (with annexes and maps), signed at Washington on 26 March 1979, 1138 U.N.T.S. 59 (Instrument No.  17855).

[4] The demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula as one of the conditions for the return of it to Egypt is a significant precedent to justify the Israeli expectation as reasonable that a similar condition accompany any Israeli surrender of the occupied territories in the West Bank to Palestinian rule, or its general agreement to the formation of the Palestinian State from the West bank territories and the Gaza Strip.

[5] Signed on 24 February 1949, 42 U.N.T.S.  251 (Instrument No. 654).

[6] Id., art. V.

[7] Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, Sept 13, 1993, 32 I.L.M. 1525 (1993).

[8] See Joint Understanding Read by President Bush at Annapolis Conference November 27, 2007, released by the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, at  .

[9] Status of Palestine in the United Nations, GA 67th session, A/67/L.28 (26 November 2012) - .

[10] The draft resolution on the Status of Palestine at the United Nations (A/67/L.28) was adopted by a recorded vote of 138 in favor, 9 against, 41 abstentions, and 5 absent. Countries voting against the resolution were Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, Panama, United States. Among the abstentions were Australia, Colombia, Germany, Latvia, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and United Kingdom.

[11] Justin Lonergan, Connecting the West Bank and Gaza Strip: Questions of “Safe Passage,” in Working Paper Series (Center for Macro Projects and Diplomacy at Roger William University), vol. 3, pp. 16-20 (Spring 2004), accessible at .

Then, on the other hand, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, known unofficially as the “Big Dig,” a project in Boston, Massachusetts, that rerouted Interstate 93 through the heart of the city into a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) tunnel—and other construction—amounted to $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006). .

[12] Lonergan, supra note 13.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] . .

[16] .

[17] .