Even those who are not fans of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman must admit that his plan to invite European foreign ministers to visit the Gaza Strip is a creative and positive step. The initiative could also symbolize Israel's final disengagement from Gaza, the consummation of a process that was never completed, primarily due to opposition raised by a defense establishment that has tended to look at the Gaza issue solely from a narrow security perspective, while ignoring the tremendous damage that the blockade has caused to Israel.
If Israel claims that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, there is no reason to prevent visits to the area, as it has tried to do in the past. As it turns out, after dozens of years of controlling Gaza, in an occupation that failed to prevent the rise of Hamas and the stockpiling and smuggling of arms, it seems that Israel is having difficulty freeing itself from a sense of domination and authority. Though we might quibble over Lieberman's motives, it is now his turn to lead a complex series of steps that might bring to an end a policy that Ariel Sharon initiated, with wide public support: freeing Israel from control and responsibility in Gaza.
After evacuating Israeli settlers from Gaza, we found ourselves locked in an absurd predicament. Israel no longer occupies Gaza, but since it demanded that control over crossing points and the coast remain in its hands, it has created a situation that has no parallel in the world: Israel has no control, but is regarded as being responsible for Gaza. Similarly, the ludicrous idea of enforcing a blockade on 1.5 million people in order to "pressure" Hamas into releasing Gilad Shalit is a proven, unmitigated failure that is tainted by a fundamental moral flaw. And the notion that any sort of Israeli policy will determine who rules the Palestinians, and will weaken or strengthen Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas, is nothing more than sheer hubris.
Should the foreign minister's plan win the support of the prime minister and the defense establishment and be implemented, Israel would allow the European Union to take responsibility for infrastructure development in Gaza and supervision of the cargo entering the region, in coordination with Israeli security officials. The implications of such a development would be complex; even were the EU not to maintain direct contacts with Hamas, clearly these steps could not be taken without some sort of coordination with Ismail Haniyeh's government. The Palestinian Authority, and perhaps the Obama administration, would not be thrilled by such a development, but it undoubtedly would suit Israeli interests.
True, one of the foreign minister's motives might be to reduce the chances of an agreement being forged between Fatah and Hamas, by enhancing the Gaza Strip's status as a separate entity. But so far, even in the absence of Lieberman's initiative, all attempts to obtain such an agreement have failed. Residents of Gaza and Israel are the parties who have paid the price for these failures. The State of Israel must get used to the idea that its border with Gaza should be viewed like its border with Syria. Put simply, Gaza is a foreign country, and the fact that its government is highly unpalatable to Israel is irrelevant. After all, the government in Damascus is not exactly run by lovers of Zion.
Israel's left should support the idea of the European Union's taking effective responsibility for the development of the Gaza Strip, even if Lieberman is the one who proposed it. Anyone who wants to view this idea as European neocolonialism is free to do so. The important point is that after reaching a strategic decision to disengage from Gaza, and after coming to the brink of a civil revolt as a result of this decision, Israel should finish the job. And if the European Union is so concerned about humanitarian aspects of life in Gaza, it should take the reins of responsibility with its own hands.
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