Even as Hamas vows to continue the violent “Great March of Return” through the summer, despite a noticeable decline in the motivation among Gazans to turn up for new confrontations with the IDF along the Gaza border, Israeli politicians and IDF officers think they have found a possible solution to the crisis.
On Sunday, the Israeli security cabinet discussed the situation, and in particular the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, for the first time since the beginning of the violence at the end of March.
The security cabinet didn’t make any decisions yet, but, according to Israeli media, the focus of the meeting was on measures to ease the plight of average Gazans.
The line of thinking behind the discussions, which included a proposal by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who envisions the construction of a 1,300-acre artificial island off the coast of Gaza to serve as a gateway to the world, is that the dire economic conditions there fuel terror and violence directed at Israel.
“The State of Israel has run into an unreasonable situation in Gaza. On the one hand, we are dealing with short-term proposals for civilian assistance because of the humanitarian crisis, instead of exerting significant practical pressure to restore the bodies of the captured IDF soldiers. And on the other hand, we refrain from making decisions on correct strategic solutions for the long term,” Katz said before the meeting.
Deputy Minister Michael Oren also thinks that by solving the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip the security situation in south Israel would improve.
Oren wants to use the Erez Crossing as an extra terminal for the import of goods to Gaza, and wants to connect the Hamas-controlled enclave to the port of Ashdod via a railway.
The former Israeli ambassador to the US also claims his plan is cheaper than Katz’ island idea.
Others like Education Minister Naftali Bennet and officials within the Israeli security apparatus say Israel should reach a deal with Hamas under which the terror group would return the bodies of slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul in exchange for opening the already-existing port in Gaza. Supervision of the port could be outsourced to Germany, which in the past brokered deals between Israel and Hamas, the officials think.
Then there is Member of Knesset Haim Jelin, who himself lives in a kibbutz close to the Gaza border, and who wants to use his contacts in the business world to create jobs in Gaza. Jelin thinks he can convince a Spanish textile corporation to invest in the impoverished enclave, while IDF officers recently recommended the Israeli government issue work permits for residents of Gaza once again.
But leading experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict say the politicians have it all wrong.
Take, for example, what Prof. Ephraim Karsh wrote in his analysis of the situation.
Karsh, a former emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at King’s College London and the writer of several books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wrote in an article titled ‘It’s not Gaza’s economy, stupid’ that the idea of “the immediate rehabilitation of Gaza as panacea to its endemic propensity for violence is not only completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth.”
It is the other way around, wrote Karsh in his article for the Middle East Forum.
“It is not Gaza’s economic malaise that has precipitated Palestinian violence; rather, it is the endemic violence that has caused the Strip’s humanitarian crisis,” according to the current director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
"So long as Gaza continues to be governed by Hamas’ rule of the jungle, no Palestinian civil society, let alone a viable state, can develop,” Karsh concluded before calling for “a comprehensive sociopolitical and educational transformation” in Palestinian society as a whole.
The Palestinian Arabs should be educated in “the virtues of coexistence with Israel,” and only after such a transformation “Gaza can look forward to a better future,” according to Karsh, who compared this transformation to what happened in Germany and Japan after WWII.
Prof. Hillel Frisch, a professor of political and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University, advocates a similar approach, and says that Hamas should be defeated in the way the IDF crushed the Palestinian terror movements during the so-called ‘Second Intifada.’
“Economic largesse at this point would only augment Hamas’s resources, as it taxes incoming goods and aid. That money will be funneled back to its hardcore through campaigns such as the March of Return,” Frisch argued.
Frisch and Karsh are probably right.
One only has to look at what happened after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, when Palestinian Arabs razed the greenhouses of Gush Katif to the ground within a matter of days. At the time, there was no humanitarian crisis and all the border crossings in Gaza were open.
Many in Israel were convinced that the complete withdrawal could turn Gaza into a new “Singapore,” as Frisch puts it, and would enhance peace between Israel and its neighbors in the now-devastated enclave.