For a conference on Gaza's reconstruction

Rice's visit is an opportunity to strengthen Palestinian society and end the violence.

funeral hamas gaza 88 (photo credit: )
funeral hamas gaza 88
(photo credit: )
As the cease-fire in Lebanon slowly takes hold we must return our attention to the site of another military confrontation - the Gaza Strip. The low-grade but persistent fighting there is a symptom of the impasse in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Teheran-sponsored terror cells continue to launch rockets into Israeli towns, and Palestinian civilians pay the price. It seems to me that everybody, out of despair, is accepting the status quo in defeat. Missiles hitting Israeli towns such as Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as the killing of Gazans, barely make the back pages of the daily newspapers. It is impossible to uproot Islamic extremism via military means only. An end to the reign of terror in Gaza requires a comprehensive economic plan, backed by the international community, followed by an integrated Palestinian Authority security strategy, and, finally, the reinstatement of diplomatic talks. As long as 1.4 million people live in poverty and despair, the Gaza Strip remains a fertile ground for Islamic preachers and arch-terrorists to recruit suicide bombers. More and more jobless youth will join the terror organizations that supply assault rifles as a substitute for a stable and prosperous future and for hope. The time is ripe to take action. The implementation of an economic plan which would lay the basis for socioeconomic development in Gaza could be pivotal in strengthening Palestinian society and resolving this bloody conflict. Terror - and, consequently, Israeli security measures - strangle the main arteries of Gaza's economy; the proposed plan must therefore include a security component to ensure the smooth movement of goods in and out of Gaza. GAZA'S MOST vital economic arteries, the Erez and Karni crossings, have been popular targets for Palestinian terrorists who have tried to destroy the last places where thousands of Israelis and Palestinians worked in harmony, clearly disregarding their operations' calamitous effects on the Palestinian economy. Thus the most urgent step in an economic recovery plan is the reopening of these crossings, under a joint Israeli-Palestinian security mechanism. Such a move would dramatically boost the reconstruction of Gaza's economy. Israel should reopen the Karni terminal for secure, increased, and permanent traffic, while a Palestinian security force loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, namely his Presidential Guard, should protect its side. The same can be said for the Erez crossing, where the adjacent industrial zone is deserted and looted. Turkish and Palestinian entrepreneurs have expressed interest in rebuilding and administering this industrial zone. The Palestinian Presidential Guard need to be deployed in the northern Gaza Strip, replacing Israeli military forces, who frequently enter the area to prevent terror groups from launching rockets into Israel. This deployment should be gradual and conditional on its success in restoring law and order to the area. THE INTERNATIONAL community should convene a conference on Gaza's economic reconstruction. Instead of Hamas government members, a Palestinian delegation could consist of representatives of economic and financial organizations reporting directly to President Abbas. The Palestinian private sector, ready to participate in the reconstruction of Gaza, should also take part. This would be an appropriate venue to reiterate and discuss in detail the G-8 pledge to allocate $3 billion for the economic development of the Palestinian territories. Naturally, the active participation of the US, EU, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Gulf States and the World Bank would be indispensable. One of the projects that could boost Gaza's economy is the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Gaza's offshore reserves to the power station at the northern part of the Strip. Furthermore, Egypt should formulate and present an effective operational plan to seal its border with the Gaza Strip to prevent smuggling of arms and ammunition into Gaza. Finally, these economic measures will serve as a staging ground for the apex and ultimate goal of the entire process: the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status talks. If the respective parties adopt all of these measures, Gaza's Palestinians could live more respectably, improve their standard of living and restore hope for themselves and their children. The Palestinian moderates would become stronger, politically and militarily. It is much harder for terrorist organizations to act when the population has something to lose if the fighting continues. It is not only Israelis and Palestinians who have a vital interest in reconstructing Gaza; a Somalia-on-the-Mediterranean would hardly benefit the United States, Europe, or the Arab States. Now is the time to take action. Secretary Rice's visit to the region is an appropriate opportunity to pool our energies into initiating positive economic political action. The writer, a retired Israeli general, is chairman of the Labor Party's parliamentary faction and a former member of the Israeli cabinet.