An Egyptian soldier keeps guard on the border between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Gaza Strip, an artificial construct without any historical, demographic, or cultural integrity or meaning, was, is and will continue to be inherently unstable. Created by Egypt in 1949 to serve as an area for refugees and UNRWA-sponsored “camps” (towns), it became a base for terrorists; except for the time when it was under Israeli control, its violent character and purpose never changed. Therefore, attempts to convince or force Hamas to change and rehabilitate will fail as long as policy makers continue to view the area as a distinct, coherent political and geographical entity.
The Israeli government’s unwillingness to re-occupy the Gaza Strip and eliminate Hamas has brought us to a dead end. Israel cannot allow Hamas to build sea and air ports which would be used to import weapons. Hamas refuses to agree to Israeli restrictions, which it sees as a form of occupation, and it will certainly never disarm. Monitors and international organizations cannot control what goes on in the Gaza Strip – tunnels for smuggling and attacking Israel will no doubt continue to be built. Both sides, therefore, are preparing for the next confrontation.
A win-win solution requires changing perspectives and context. Gazans could have access to an air and sea port in nearby El Arish, under full Egyptian control.
Egypt has an interest in preventing Hamas from renewing its military capacity, since Hamas has armed militants in the Sinai and has threatened Egyptian interests and control. Egypt would also gain economically from imports and exports through El Arish. No Egyptian territory or authority would be diminished.
Gazans would be able to travel easily to El Arish for business and commerce.
Rehabilitating part of the old Cairo-Damascus rail line which ran through El Arish into Gaza would help both Egyptian and Gazan economies. That line could extend to Beersheva, and then, via the Jordan Valley, northwards. Since most Gazan families are either originally from Egypt, or are Sinai Bedouin, they would re-connect with their roots. They could develop economically, culturally and socially without Israel's engagement.
Tunnels for smuggling would not be necessary, since highways could be built between El Arish and Gaza. Housing and industrial areas could be developed along the coast between El Arish and Gaza, integrating the Gaza Strip with Egypt’s economy and regional network.
The more links between Gaza and Egypt, the less friction with Israel. Egypt will replace Israel as the gateway for humanitarian aid. El Arish could develop into a major regional center. This development would also stabilize the Sinai and allow Egypt to exploit its oil and gas resources and revitalize tourism.
Under Egyptian suzerainty, international organizations like UNRWA would no longer be necessary.
The Palestinian Authority would also benefit since it would be relieved of the burden and threats of Hamas in the Gazan enclave.
These advantages notwithstanding, a "unity government” between Arabs in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) and Gazans might be a source of instability because there is no essential cultural, ethnic, or demographic connection between these two populations. Israel must detach itself from Gaza.
There will be a loss of income to Israeli businesses which currently supply Gazans with food, building material, water, electricity, etc., but Gazans need not suffer. They can get whatever they need from Egypt and the rest of the world via El Arish. A water desalination plant and electricity generator can be built in El Arish, along with a major hospital and other facilities to supply Gazans.
Smuggling tunnels should be prohibited since they facilitate theft and support corruption, trafficking in women, are a security threat and endanger lives of those who build them.
As a matter of Israeli policy, Gaza should become independent and develop democratic institutions; Gaza is not and should not be Israel’s problem. In addition to the humanitarian tragedy created in 2005 by the “disengagement,” those fundamental mistakes can only be rectified by lateral thinking and out-ofthe- box solutions.
This is the only way out of the Gazan quandary.The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist. His book of short stories, As far as the eye can see, was published in September by the
New English Review Press.