Monday, June 12, 2006

Israel and the Palestinians playing the game of Hex

Has anyone ever played the game of Hex? Quoth Wikipedia (ellipses are mine):
Players have two colors, say "Red" and "Blue".... They take turns placing a piece of their own color on a hexagon. Red's goal is to form a red path connecting two opposite sides of the parallelogram, and Blue aims to connect the other two sides....

The game can never end in a tie, a fact found by Nash: the only way to prevent your opponent from forming a connecting path is to form a path yourself.

I was reminded of Hex when I saw the headline on this report from Ha'aretz and AP:
Olmert: Israel ready to create 'contiguous' Palestinian state
LONDON - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel is "prepared to pull out from most" of the West Bank and create a "contiguous" Palestinian state.

Either Olmert didn't say that, or he doesn't know what he's talking about (or he's being deliberately obfuscatory). As even the New York Times has finally realized (hat tip: Soccer Dad), Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous. The only way to create a contiguous Palestinian state is by splitting Israel in two, granting the Palestinians a sovereign corridor between the mountains and the sea (as they have consistently demanded).

As in Hex, "the only way to prevent your opponent from forming a connecting path is to form a path yourself." Only one state can be contiguous. All the talk about "two states, living side by side" (Bush) or "a Palestinian state alongside Israel" (the "road map") is meaningless. The choice is between a Palestinian state sandwiching Israel, a Palestinian state bisecting Israel, or a Palestinian state partly encircled by Israel. There is no other way to make a Palestinian state. (Veteran readers know I don't believe there will ever be one, but that's beside the point.)

So what did Olmert mean? The Jerusalem Post has a more extensive quote in its version of the story. It quotes Olmert as saying, "...we will have to move forward... to separate from the Palestinians, pull out from areas of the West Bank to realign Israelis to other parts of Israel to leave a very large contiguous territories for a state to be formed by the Palestinians."

That's different, isn't it? It doesn't specify that the Palestinian state will be contiguous, only that it will comprise "very large contiguous territories." Now, I'm not pleased with that prospect, and furthermore I don't believe that the Palestinians will create a sovereign state no matter how much contiguous territory Israel evacuates. But at least it's geographically possible.

Unfortunately, Olmert wasn't nearly so coherent last month in Washington. He spoke before Congress about "a Palestinian state, side by side in peace and security with Israel." At the White House, he referred to "a contiguous territory that will allow the Palestinians to establish their own Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel." Whether "side by side" or "alongside", it's still physically impossible.

So, which will it be? Will the Palestinian state be contiguous, or will Israel remain in one piece?

I hope our leaders are good at Hex.

(Incidentally, the game of Hex is also an apt analogy for the strategies of Jewish and Arab settlement in the West Bank, as well as land development in the Negev and Galilee. But I don't have time to go into that here.)



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Sharvul said...

A contiguous Palestinian state can be had with an elevated highway or an underground tunnel connecting the West Bank with Gaza, and that will not compromise Israel's contiguousness. It's been proposed before.

Zman Biur said...

And who has sovereignty over the highway or tunnel? Sovereignty conventionally includes both airspace and underground.

Who's responsible for maintaining the highway or tunnel? What access rights do they have? If there's an accident on the highway or tunnel, who's responsible?

The Palestinians have consistently rejected all proposals which do not grant them a sovereign land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. They understand how the game is played.

David Boxenhorn said...

This is a great post. I would have loved the game of Hex if I had known of it as a child.

But, there is a way for a non-contiguous Palestinian state to function: Peace. I'm not betting on it, though.

Zman Biur said...


Yes, a non-contiguous state can function. The U.S. is noncontiguous, as is Russia (slightly), as is France (its overseas territories are considered sovereign France).

But Israel must be clear that any Palestinian state we conceivably envision will be non-contiguous, at least between Gaza and the West Bank. The alternative (realistically speaking) is that Israel will be non-contiguous.

GreatMap said...

I too am interested in exploring non-contiguous alternatives. See
for a settlement 'resolution' approach that pixelates what have historically been drawn as hard and fast dividing lines.

Other interesting resolution principles are mapped at