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Along with the opening the Gaza Strip's borders to the world, the construction of a Gaza seaport, could pull the embattled patch of land from the brink of economic disaster, say Palestinian analysts and economists.
The Agreement on Movement and Access, as the American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed Tuesday is called, provides for the immediate start of construction on Gaza's first major port.
The advent of a Gaza seaport raises a pantheon of economic opportunity for most Gazans. For some it also raises the specter of social ills from which the isolated Gaza has been largely immune.
Dr. Samir Abdullah, Director of the Palestinian Economic Research Institute, called the port "the most important and crucial project to salvage the Gaza economy." Praise for what will one day serve as the Palestinian economic gateway to the world, is not only about the financial benefits it could yield but about symbolism as well. "A port declares the openness of the Gaza economy to the rest of the world."
Abdullah said the port is necessary to attract the foreign and private investment necessary for strong economy.
Security at the seaport and the Gaza Airport at Dahania, should it be allowed to reopen, would function under the parameters of the Rafah border crossing with a EU representative monitoring the search process.
The seaport currently under consideration would be built south of Gaza City, not far from the spot the settlement of Netzarim once stood. Plans are for a relatively moderate sized port that would cost between $70-80 million, according to Gaza economists. Palestinian economists predict it would take at least two years to build.
Palestinian engineers and economists plan to use some of the rubble from the settlements as a foundation for what will one day be a deep sea port.
Even if it takes years to build, the port's construction alone would provide necessary jobs to jobless Gazans. The average annual income of Gazans is about $600.
Palestinian economists note that a Gaza seaport with its cheap labor and immunity from strikes by union workers (so far there are none) would make it an ideal regional alternative to the Ashdod and Haifa ports one day in the future.
Some Palestinians, said Gaza-based economic analyst Salah Abdel Shafi, see the port as an unnecessary financial burden. It would be far cheaper they say to use the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod.
On the other hand, noted Abdel Shaffi, "not everything is about economic sense. A Gaza seaport is about Palestinian sovereignty, it is about politics."
But when Gaza's foremost engineer Dr. Ali Abu Shahla thinks of the Gaza port, he doesn't only envision concrete, steel and a mammoth project worth tens of millions of dollars, but also rats, disease and prostitutes.
"If you ask me whether the freedom to cross our border is essential for our future, I say yes," said Abu Shahla, once the City Engineer of Gaza, "If you ask about seaports, I say no."
Ports attract sailors and inevitably, said Abu Shahla, and sailors attract drugs, prostitutes, and even disease - plagues that he says Gaza was immune from because Israel so tightly controlled its borders.
Abu Shahla and a growing number of those informed about ports are concerned about increased pollution in the densely crowded Gaza Strip.
Though desperately poor, according to the CIA Factbook, Gaza is relatively free of sexually transmitted diseases. It is far more religious than the West Bank and the sale of alcohol is banned in Gaza. Even movie theaters and nightclubs were shut down due to increased Islamic fervency since the start of the intifada in September 2005.
"The rise of Islam," in the Gaza Strip, notes economist Abdel Shaffi, "is related to Gaza's status as an isolated area. When people are not exposed to other cultures they are inclined to see religion."
A real seaport, he adds, could change all of that.
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