The Gaza paradigm

Without a strategic objective, Netanyahu has managed this crisis well.

By
May 11, 2019 21:23
3 minute read.
A ball of fire is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City May 4, 2019

A ball of fire is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City May 4, 2019.. (photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM / REUTERS)

 A week has passed since the last round of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. In the time since, Israelis commemorated their fallen on Remembrance Day and celebrated 71 years of independence.

Security officials are cautiously warning that they do not know how long this quiet will last. Before last week, the round before it was at the end of March when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to cut short his trip to the United States due to Hamas rocket fire. Will the next round also be in a month, or in just in a few days? Due to the volatility of the situation, no one knows.
There is a chance that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will take advantage of the Eurovision contest this week in Israel and fire off some more rockets both to embarrass Israel and to extract further concessions and money from the Jewish state. Israel wants to use the high profile song festival to show off the country’s innovation and hospitality, and boost tourism. Renewed violence now would undermine those efforts and solidify the already-prevalent belief that Israel is a war zone.
 
With a fragile quiet now prevailing over Gaza, there is an opportunity for Netanyahu, should he succeed in forming a new government, to change the way Israel engages with the Gaza Strip. Ever since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, followed by the Hamas coup in 2007, the relationship between Hamas and Israel has mostly been one of violence. Hamas instigates attacks and Israel retaliates.


Three large-scale operations – which Israel does not classify as wars – have taken place, in 2008, 2012 and  2014. In March 2018, the weekly Great March of Return border protests began. Almost every week Palestinians are shot in the riots.


Without a strategic objective, Netanyahu has managed this crisis well. He understands that there is no strategic gain in launching a fourth large-scale operation in Gaza that would end with significant casualties on both sides – in two days of rockets four Israelis were killed and 30 Palestinians – but with both sides back at the status quo the dust has settled.


Thus Netanyahu prefers to hit Hamas hard from the air rather than  send troops into Gaza. Having learned the lesson from the 50-day Gaza campaign of 2014 which brought quiet for three years until it began to erode in 2018, he prefers to end each flare-up of violence as quickly as possible.


Unfortunately, violence and attacks from Gaza will continue so long as Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s existence. But there are ways to ameliorate the economic and humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave which could stave off the next round.


For years, Israeli officials have discussed the construction of an artificial island off the Gaza coast that would serve as a port for the Strip. It could also house key infrastructure projects, including a power plant so Palestinians can have continuous electricity, and a desalination plant to provide potable water. Sewage treatment plants need to be repaired and added. All these projects would contribute desperately-needed employment. Here too, there is no shortage of ideas for establishing internationally-monitored industrial zones to create jobs.


Finally, Israel must encourage its Egyptian ally to open the border to Sinai. Many Gazans would doubtless emigrate if they were allowed to.


None of this will ensure on its own that there will no longer be war. That will ultimately be up to Hamas, which refuses to come to recognize Israel’s existence. But, together, these measures could potentially improve the quality of life in Gaza, and force Hamas to think a bit more before instigating a new round of violence with Israel.
 
Israel is known as the start-up nation renowned for its creativity and innovation. After repeated cycles of violence, now would be a good time to start applying some of that business and engineering savvy to the situation along the Gaza border.


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