The sun sets over the Gaza Strip, as seen from the Israeli side of the border May 15, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The much touted security cabinet meeting on Gaza, the first such discussion in months, ended without any operative decisions on how best to address the growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
The ministers discussed various plans, such as Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s idea of building a port in Cyprus, and Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant proposed industrial zone.
Earlier in the day Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio that the key to resolving the Gaza crisis “lies not in the cabinet but in the Mukata in Ramallah” and with the United Nations.
He blamed harsh measures that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has taken during the last year for fueling the Gaza crisis. The 2 million residents there are living on only two to four hours of electricity a day, in part because of the PA’s refusal to pay for the electricity and heavy fines it has imposed on fuel for the generator.
Plans to rehabilitate Gaza, Liberman said, will not bring an end to the violence and terrorism from the Hamas-controlled Strip.
The security cabinet discussion came against the background of two months of massive Hamas-organized marches toward the security fence, and a flurry of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza some 10 days ago.
Before the meeting, Transportation Minister Israel Katz said that “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.”
War of words between Palestinians and Israel as U.S. vetoes U.N. resolution on Gaza, June 2, 2018 (Reuters)
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Before the meeting, the parents of Hadar Goldin – whose body is being held by Hamas along with the body of Oron Shaul – called the security cabinet ministers and urged them not to make any humanitarian gestures towards Gaza unless the bodies of the two soldiers were released.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett agreed, telling reporters that Israel should make efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza only in exchange for the bodies of the soldiers and the release of the two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza.
“Humanitarian [gestures] for humanitarian [gestures],” he said. “There are no free lunches.”
An ambitious plan to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip by building an artificial island off its coast was not discussed at the security cabinet Sunday afternoon because of a long-standing dispute over the plan between its initiator, Katz, and Liberman.
Katz – a member of the security cabinet – said he removed the issue from the discussions because of “substantive differences on the matter” with Liberman. Under this plan, the artificial island would contain major infrastructure projects for Gaza’s residents.
Katz’s artificial-island plan, which he has been pushing for more than a year, would have a 2 km. by 4 km. artificial island built 4.5 km. off the Gaza coast that would be linked by a bridge to Gaza, and would include a port as well as desalination and power plants that would serve the coastal Strip. It would also give the Palestinians an outlet to the world.
According to Katz’s plan, Gaza’s exports and imports would go via the island, which would be under the security control of NATO or another international body that would search the cargo going in and out of the Strip. Israel has adamantly opposed opening a harbor or airport in Gaza because of security concerns.
The island, according to the plan, would cost between $5b. and $10b., and take some six years to construct.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the AJC Global Forum in Jerusalem on Sunday that the Palestinian Authority would have money to spend on Gaza if it hadn't invested it in payments to terrorists.
"Imagine what would happen if President Abbas would not invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in paying terrorists and the families of terrorists who murdered innocent people," Netanyahu said.
"Imagine that he invested this in the project of peace. Imagine that they invested it in Ramallah, or for that matter in Gaza. Imagine what this would do," Netanyahu said.
Liberman, however, has consistently opposed the plan, saying that it would not be possible to ensure that goods going to and from the island would not include smuggled weapons. He also said that these types of plans should be contingent on the demilitarization of Gaza.
Netanyahu has not placed his support behind the plan. No decision on it was reached last year, when the idea was broached in the security cabinet last June.