»  National Review Online

June 21st, 2002

  An Insanely Bad Idea


Oh, the Middle East, the Middle East. Everybody has an opinion, and most of the opinions are held with fierce passion. This, of course, creates rancor. Now, you know me: irenic, amiable, easy-going old Derb. I hate rancor, and will have nothing to do with it, at least for today. To make a Buckleyism of it: I shall eschew rancor.

Let us all eschew rancor. Let us try to find something, some little thing, in the whole sorry mess over there, that we can all (no, that's too much to ask: that most of us) can agree on. I am going to put forward a point I haven't seen much discussed, but that seems to me wellnigh unassailable in logic, history, political science and common sense.

Here is the point. All right-thinking people are supposed to agree on the need for some kind of Palestinian state. I am not so sure about this myself, as I have said on this site more than once; but for the sake of argument, let's go with the bien-pensants and take this as a given. There is to be a Palestinian state. What should it look like? That's a no-brainer, and anyone can give you the answer without pausing for thought (which — the not pausing for thought — is part of what I am getting at). The Palestinian state will consist of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Which is to say, it will consist of two unconnected pieces of territory, separated, at their closest point, by 30 miles, said 30 miles belonging to an unfriendly power. Can we please all agree that this is an insanely bad idea?

History is founded on geography, and the shapes of states can have profound consequences. The particular idea of a state in two or more pieces, separated by land, has an extremely poor track record.

The most recent attempt at such a state was the original, pre-1971 version of Pakistan, made up of the current Pakistan and the current Bangladesh, separated by not 30 but 1,000 miles of unfriendly territory! This monumentally stupid idea made perfect sense to all the decision-makers at the time (1947); a fact that becomes a little easier to understand if you recall that every one of them was either a diplomat, a lawyer, a socialist politician, an Islamic theocrat, or a member of the British Royal Family. By a miracle, the thing hung together for 24 years, before disintegrating in a ghastly blood-letting in the second, third, fourth, who can remember? Indo-Pak war of 1971. Today in the east end of London, youths from Pakistani families and youths from Bangladeshi families still fight pitched street battles, while youths from Indian families drive by in their Porsches, on their way home to the suburbs from their jobs as stock-brokers in the City.

An earlier effort at making a state out of two non-contiguous pieces was made at the Versailles conference of 1919, when the victorious Allies of WW1 redrew the map of Europe. One thing they were intent on was creating a free nation of Poland. (The Poles had been part of the Russian Empire since 1795.) If that nation were to be viable, it would of course need access to the Baltic — this was in fact the 13th of Wilson's famous 14 points. Unfortunately this could only be done by cutting off the Germans of East Prussia in an enclave separate from the rest of Germany. Leaving Germany in two separate pieces like that didn't bother any of the Allies much. The fool Germans had lost the war, hadn't they? And so the "Danzig Corridor" was born, and the rest is, well, history.

Way further back, in the early-modern period, Spain was in two bits. There was Spain as in, Spain, and there was the Spanish Netherlands. That generated, oh, about 150 years of chronic warfare (and an excellent Verdi opera). Before that, the Kingdom of England included bits of France, a state of affairs that led to a war actually named "the Hundred Years War" (not to mention several fine plays by Wm. Shakespeare and one by G.B. Shaw). Before that …

Have I made my point? Want some more? Nagorno-Karabakh, anyone? Schleswig-Holstein? Kaliningrad? (All right, that one hasn't caused a war yet. Stick around.)

Counterexamples? Sure; I'm living in one. Alaska is a piece of North America, belonging to the U.S.A. but not contiguous with it. Yeah, yeah, but the U.S.-Canada relationship is not an instance of anything more general, and who wants to live in Alaska, anyway? What else you got? The old Kingdom of Hanover? Come on.

The other day I was listening to some TV talking head explaining that it would be a good idea, following the establishment of a Palestinian State, for the West Bank and Gaza to be connected by an elevated expressway. That would (he explained) cause minimal bother to the Israelis, and would give the West Bank access to the sea. I was sitting there watching this person, who to the best of my recollection did not have bananas sticking out of his ears, and thinking to myself: You, Sir, are mad, crazy, deranged, delusional, barmy, wacko and meshuga.

Does anybody disagree?