Land reclamation and 3D infrastructure to transform Israeli-Palestinian relations - opinion

Let expansive imagination secure the dignity of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the entire Middle East.

 NICKOLAY MLADENOV, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, visits a solar energy project at Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, in 2019. (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, visits a solar energy project at Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, in 2019.

In light of the successful Abraham Accords, Gulf Cooperation Council members and the larger international donor community can now assist an Israeli-Palestinian two-state separation strategy beyond the limitations of the 1967 Green Line and without a formal two-state signing ceremony. 

Israeli domestic security, Palestinian self-determination, and Palestinian self-sufficiency can be enhanced through coordinated investment planning in renewables, offshore land reclamation, and two-state separation infrastructure.

Among global advances in renewables, Saudi Arabia recently approved a 1.5 gigawatt (GW) solar project at a very low-level cost of electricity of 1.239 cents per kWh. Both offshore and onshore Gaza solar and West Bank solar can supply all local power and transportation requirements, including the use of Gaza Airport areas adjacent to runways similar to what is now under consideration for Dulles International Airport in Washington.

In addition, offshore land reclamation and the use of elevated, underground, and air technologies can less obtrusively secure Israeli sovereignty to most settlements. It can also restore Palestinian land area, West Bank North-South contiguity, and connect Gaza to the West Bank with minimal surface footprints.

Coordinated investment in renewables and land reclamation for Israeli-Palestinian separation strategy

The two critical elements to securing a functional Palestine are the resolution of east Jerusalem, including the 12 E1 sector, and maintaining north-south West Bank territorial contiguity. Conversely, the larger settlements beyond the Green Line can become sovereign Israeli territory through carefully channeled movement of populations within electronically monitored and controlled public spaces. 

 Flags of United Arab Emirates and Israel flutter during Israel's National Day ceremony at Expo 2020 Dubai, in Dubai (credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE)
Flags of United Arab Emirates and Israel flutter during Israel's National Day ceremony at Expo 2020 Dubai, in Dubai (credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE)

Joint security protection teams can secure the historical legacies of ancient Israel and West Bank Muslim and Christian sites with the additional assistance of Jordanian security personnel. This would be an administrative extension of similar Jordanian responsibilities on the Temple Mount with the addition of Saudi observers at West Bank Muslim religious sites, also in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Religious Services.

In 2008, former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered PA President Mahmoud Abbas 98.1% of the original 6,000 1948 land area for Palestine. Flexible adjustments to the 1967 Green Line can reduce intended land swaps while also minimizing the Israeli footprint through the West Bank to the larger settlement blocks.

Future settlement expansion would be offset with negotiated predetermined coordinated land swaps in conjunction with planned offshore reclamation projects assuring the Palestinians close to 6,000 of territory overall. Offshore reclamation islands would include agricultural areas which could also join the expansive global movement toward income-producing agrivoltaics, elevated solar panels over agricultural production.

Saudi Arabia is similarly constructing Oxagon, a coastal floating city as part of Neom. Japan has also announced a floating city for 40,000 residents.

Las Vegas and Ft. Lauderdale are now pursuing high-speed underground shuttles from Elon Musk, with a similar proposal for metropolitan Los Angeles that is roughly the same size as the West Bank. 

Advancements in offshore solar power and land reclamation techniques 

In the interest of mitigating Israeli-Palestinian confrontations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris recently asked by a show of hands who would finance West Bank separation tunnels.

These tunnels can accommodate both Israeli security and Palestinian aspirations through east-west underground shuttles between settlements and Israel proper supplemented with alternative levels of underground north-south shuttles throughout the West Bank as well as connecting Gaza to the West Bank.

At a cost of $5 million per mile, 100 miles of double Israeli east-west tunnels and 100 miles of double Palestinian north-south tunnels would cost $1 billion. In essence, Israeli and Palestinian populations are totally separated, with electronic monitoring of both people and overnight cargo throughout all tunnel transit movements.

These monitored underground movements can be supplemented with autonomous vertical air taxi start-ups connecting the more remote Israeli settlements as well as providing interim air services from Ramallah to Amman, and Gaza to Cairo from the Egyptian side of the border, preliminary to more follow-up substantive negotiated security arrangements that would allow for the eventual reopening of the Gaza airport. 

Among other six-to-nine passenger vertical aircraft – air taxi sheruts (regular taxi service lines), basically – Lilium of Germany will begin six-passenger vertical takeoff and landing air taxi shuttle services in 2024 with speeds of 150 knots at an average 60-mile cost of $2.25 per mile.

The shorter distances and therefore the cost in Israel would be half that. In addition, domestic Israeli air cargo drones can service all of Israel and settlements, further minimizing population interaction. Security drones can also monitor the settlements as a deterrent to vigilantes afflicting Palestinian West Bank villages. 

Critical elements for a functional Palestine: east Jerusalem and West Bank territorial contiguity 

Any attacks by either side would be adjudicated within agreed penalties by a joint Israeli/Palestinian Security Commission with additionally agreed international third party monitors, either Gulf Cooperation Council or UN assigned.

With respect to Palestinian representation in east Jerusalem in conjunction with the E1 sector, consider the multilevel Tel Aviv bus station or the multilevel Port Authority bus station in Manhattan. As a single unit under the joint Palestinian-Israeli Authority, a similar infrastructure expanded to four times in size would allow for the E1 separation of north-south West Bank Palestinian road traffic and east-west Israeli road traffic, and again under electronic surveillance. 

Alternatively, with respect to E1, a 12-km.-cable-stayed bridge has been designed in the UK to connect Gibraltar with Africa, including two main spans, each span 5 km. in length.

Both Palestinian east Jerusalem and Israeli access to the east-side Jerusalem suburb of Ma’aleh Adumin can be simultaneously secured with a 2-3 km. elevated viaduct over Highway 1. Several modular rapid bridge-building regimens can complete this technically modest task. This elevated viaduct into east Jerusalem would be restricted to preregistered vehicles and personnel.

Palestinian executive offices would be located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Palestinian residents within the Old City would have dual Palestinian-Israeli citizenship. Within an additional electronically monitored and gated community east of the Old City with Augusta Victoria Hospital as the western edge, Palestinian east Jerusalem would house the judiciary and legislative offices of Palestine. 

Efficient transportation solutions for Palestinian-Israeli connectivity in east Jerusalem

Additional Palestinians with Jerusalem residency permits within this electronically monitored gated Palestinian east Jerusalem would also have dual Palestinian-Israeli citizenship.

The distance from Ramallah to east Jerusalem is about 15 km. Providing the most minimal surface footprint while crossing over the outer periphery of greater metropolitan Jerusalem, several Asian high-capacity urban monorail systems use single column two-way elevated, contained, and therefore security-appropriate rail technologies that could connect the gated east Jerusalem Palestine Capitol Center to Ramallah with later extensions to such nearby suburban commuter communities as Rawabi and Bethlehem.

At roughly the same distance of 15 km., the single column suspended two-way monorail system of Chiba, Japan, has a daily capacity of 45,000 persons. Palestinian government workers commuting into east Jerusalem would enter and exit this electronically monitored secured gated east Jerusalem Capitol Center.

Joint security protection for historical sites: A collaborative approach 

Land reclamation is commonplace across the globe. Following Minister of Transportation Israel Katz’s 2017 land reclamation proposal, the IDF completed a 2019 feasibility study for this 8 artificial island off Gaza. Why not do five of these along the Gaza coast for a total of 40 of additional Palestinian territory?

After all, consider other reclamation projects – the China South Seas, the Netherlands, Tokyo Bay, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore by an additional 23%, everywhere in the Persian Gulf, and the entire southern coastal outline of Manhattan, just to mention a few. The UK has also studied coastal land reclamation.

Katz stated that his offshore island would cost $5b. At full reclamation, five of these would total $25b. With two or three of the five constructed as floating solar/agricultural platform islands, the cost would be less. With all the aforementioned infrastructure technologies combined, the cost would be $40b.

Promoting binational cooperation for sustainable Israeli-Palestinian relations

Israelis and Palestinians actually cooperate in many areas on a daily basis. This cooperation can be formalized through limited binational arrangements.

Both Israelis and Palestinians can elect representatives to an Israel/Palestine Security Commission as well as a separate additional Israel/Palestine Infrastructure Commission, similar to an elected New York-New Jersey Port Authority. This would allow for the number of Israelis and Palestinians with coordinated binational electronic security passes to be gradually expanded to known and trusted citizens to work in both national zones.

Gaza has often been mentioned as having the potential to become the Singapore of the Mediterranean. Why wait until another flare-up? Let expansive imagination secure the dignity of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the entire Middle East.

The writer has worked with the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, the Israel Land Authority in Jerusalem, and the Chief Public Information Officer at the United Nations for the Jerusalem District.