The wars that defined us: Gaza's reconstruction - Toward a better future

Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and pragmatic Arab states all have a role to play in improving the lives of Gazans.

A PALESTINIAN BOY cries as students of United Nations-run schools take part in a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, February 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A PALESTINIAN BOY cries as students of United Nations-run schools take part in a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, February 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The current situation in the Gaza Strip is marked by several phenomena, primarily Hamas’s comprehensive control of the region; the political (and territorial) split between Hamas and Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority (PA); Hamas’s role as spoiler in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere; and the severe economic plight and deteriorated infrastructure in the area.
In addition to placing the Strip on the verge of humanitarian disaster, the human hardship motivates belligerent tendencies and heightens the likelihood of the eruption of yet another cycle of violence between Israel and Hamas and other terrorist factions operating there. Under these circumstances, reconstruction of the region’s economic infrastructure appears to be a critical imperative.
What needs to be done
Developing and launching a reconstruction project for the Gaza Strip necessitates a concerted effort, to be based on an Israeli initiative and implemented in a coordinated manner under regional and international leadership and comprised of both urgent and long-term undertakings.
1) Urgent civil-humanitarian undertakings, pertaining to improvement of the basic living conditions in the Strip.
Improvement in these humanitarian realms will provide the reconstruction project with a critical element of visibility, which will help convince skeptics that the actions under way are taken in good faith. This will make it possible to mobilize the patience necessary to support the security calm, critical for completing the long term undertakings.
Related measures should include expansion of the activity at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, to be supervised by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt; export of goods from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and elsewhere via Ashdod Port; permission for workers from the Strip to work in Israeli communities in the Gaza periphery; repairing and equipping of hospitals and clinics throughout Gaza; expansion of water and electricity supplies to the Strip; and expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean.
Concurrently, specified areas in the Gaza Strip and Israel next to the border will be defined as non-aggression areas in order to ensure the reasonable progress of the reconstruction project and the effective use of the international investment.
2) Medium and long-term undertaking that will take several years to complete.
Implementation of related projects will have to begin as soon as possible following the achievement of regional and international agreements. Presumably, however, the commencement of infrastructure work will involve at least partially visible measures that will convey hope to the Gaza population and the promise of a better future.
Related moves should include rehabilitation of water and electrical infrastructures with an eye toward current and future demand, in accordance with estimates for natural population growth and economic development; establishment of sources of employment and international loan grants for small and medium-sized businesses, in addition to a tender issued to international companies to build factories in the Gaza Strip and establish employee training tracks – hi-tech and low-tech (agriculture, small industry, textiles) alike.
A railway will be constructed between the Ashdod Port and the Gaza Strip, and a project will be launched for the construction of an island off the coast of the Gaza Strip, including a port (and perhaps also a landing strip), to be operated under the supervision of an international force that will engage in meticulous security inspections. This supervision, like the supervision exercised at the land border crossings, will be committed to preventing weapons and dual-use materials from entering the Strip.
Finally, British Gas will be authorized to develop a natural gas field off the Gaza coast. This plan will be coordinated with the PA, which will eventually be able to sell gas to Egypt and Jordan and profit from the sales.
To make it possible to formulate and guarantee the principles, understandings and commitments required for a broad resource-intensive reconstruction project in the Gaza Strip, it is necessary to materialize several inevitable prerequisites, all of which are essential and none of which in itself is sufficient: 1) Mutual commitment by both Hamas and Israel to ongoing security calm, which will provide a basis for building an atmosphere that supports reconstruction and prevents further destruction in the Strip.
2) The PA’s incorporation into the reconstruction project.
To this end, Israel will need to refrain from disrupting a reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas and the establishment of a Palestinian unity government that will focus on the reconstruction project.
3) Egyptian involvement in advancing reconstruction that takes the form of mediation vis-à-vis Hamas regarding all aspects of the project, as well as an effort to restrain Hamas and prevent the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.
4) Regional and international involvement in the establishment of a multinational task force to be responsible for the reconstruction project, including planning, management, implementation and maintenance conditions that facilitate its continuation. This task force will also need to encompass an effective supervision mechanism to prevent resources designated for reconstruction from being used to further Hamas’s military buildup.
5) An Israeli decision to initiate a reconstruction framework for the Gaza Strip and conduct a determined campaign to mobilize regional and international support and involvement in the project must be the product of a cost-benefit analysis.
Looking forward
One cannot ignore the risks involved in the proposed initiative in terms of the consolidation of Hamas’s rule in the region, a decline in the status of the PA, the restrictions that will apply to Israel’s use of force in the Strip in the event of escalation, and future difficulties in stimulating and concluding a political process toward an overall Israeli- Palestinian settlement.
However, the present situation in the Strip is as follows: Hamas’s rule is a fact; the PA contends with the ongoing erosion of its status; and Israel and the PA have not agreed on the conditions that would facilitate a return to the negotiating table, even if only to further interim settlements on the way to a comprehensive settlement.
These political aspects of the Gaza issue must be considered in conjunction with the severe humanitarian situation currently prevailing in the Strip, the resulting danger of deterioration of the security realm and the difficulty of remaining on the sidelines in view of the increasing hardships of the inhabitants of the region.
The conclusion is clear: a change in approach is required.
This call is directed toward the Israeli government, the institutions and states in the region and the international arenas, the PA, the pragmatic Arab states and the Hamas leadership itself.
This article is based on Udi Dekel and Anat Kurz, “The Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip: a Critical Imperative,” in Anat Kurz, Udi Dekel and Benedetta Berti (eds.), The Crisis of the Gaza Strip: A Way Out. Tel Aviv, INSS, pp. 9-26.