Israel Defense Forces officials have made an astonishing discovery which has won them much praise: The economic decay in the Gaza Strip constitutes a threat to calm and stability.
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They’ve also discovered that there is a connection between Israel’s policy and the economic downslide. They therefore advised the defense minister to ease the strict closure of Gaza. A Haaretz editorial called their recommendations “a new rational and practical strategy.”
The plaudits are overblown. Like the old joke about the rabbi who advises the man living in the unbearably crowded house to first bring a goat into his home, then let it go, so the IDF has proposed lifting a restriction or two on Gaza — restrictions, which were put in place by the military and politicians in the early 1990s.
Perhaps there is more to the recommendations than what my colleague Amos Harel reported (Haaretz, July 8). But according to the report, the recommendations are quite modest in scope:
To allow Palestinian laborers to work in the Gaza border communities. This is a turnabout from the 2005 disengagement plan, when thousands of Palestinians who still worked in Israel were laid off and a 35-year policy of permitting Gazans to work in Israel was erased. The return of several thousand to work in Israel will improve the situation for tens of thousands of people, and this is not to be dismissed lightly. At the same time, their return will be beneficial for those Israeli communities (cheap, available and good labor, especially in agriculture, perhaps also in construction). But it won’t fundamentally change the unemployment situation in Gaza or solve the problem of unemployed youth there.
To reopen the commercial Karni crossing (which was effectively shut down in 2007 and officially closed in 2011) and enlarge the commercial Kerem Shalom crossing. In other words, increasing the number of trucks that unload merchandise. There is no shortage of consumer goods in Gaza, so one hopes that the expansion is meant to increase the amount of construction materials that are brought into Gaza and to hasten the rebuilding effort. This is certainly a positive development. It was not specifically noted whether the IDF is recommending that Palestinians in Gaza be permitted to market their goods in Israel and the West Bank once more, but perhaps that is the intention.
Since 2007, Israel has prohibited the sale of agricultural and light industrial products, such as clothing and furniture, outside of Gaza, causing the collapse of important manufacturing industries. One hopes that the IDF officials understand that there can be no economic recovery without rehabilitation of the manufacturing sector and the ability to market goods outside of Gaza.
To permit thousands of Palestinians to depart Gaza to travel abroad via the Allenby border crossing with Jordan — in other words, to permit passage through Israel and the West Bank. These “thousands” are students who’ve been accepted for study programs abroad, businesspeople, patients traveling for medical treatment, pilgrims to Mecca, Palestinians who came from abroad to visit the homeland, employees of local or international organizations taking part in conferences or training programs abroad. In other words, anyone who obtained a visa abroad, who is permitted entry by Jordan and who has the financial wherewithal for such travel. A very generous estimate puts this number at around 100,000 people per year.
And what about the remaining 1.7 million?
The wording of the report makes one thing very clear. IDF officials do not recommend doing the most natural thing of all: opening the Erez checkpoint so that Gaza residents could travel the 50-70 kilometers to the West Bank and so that West Bank residents could travel to Gaza. They are not recommending that Gazans be able to return to studying in West Bank institutions; they are not recommending that friends and family from the West Bank and Gaza be able to get together again, or form new family and work ties. They are not recommending what should be taken for granted: Freedom of movement for all. The IDF officials continue to treat the denial of freedom of movement for Palestinians in their homeland as the norm, as a law of nature. The difference now is in the number of exceptions to the norm that they are recommending, but is not a difference of substance.
Despite the failure of my efforts to convey the following basic fact, I haven’t wearied of repeating it: The basic policy that has been guiding Israel’s moves since 1991 is to cut off Gaza from the West Bank and turn it into a separate, autarchic entity. The sister strategy is the creation of the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and the annexation of Area C (those parts of the West Bank which the Oslo Accords put under temporary full Israeli civil and security control). The IDF officials are not recommending the cancellation of this combined strategy, which is the mother of all the diplomatic failures and humanitarian, economic and security disasters of the past 20 years.
There can be no economic rehabilitation of Gaza without the rehabilitation of the natural ties between Gazans and their sisters and brothers in the West Bank. There can be no economic rehabilitation without respecting the Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement – not only to go abroad, but within their own country. There can be no Palestinian economic rehabilitation without the restrictions on freedom of movement, and on construction and development in Area C of the West Bank being lifted.
And another thing: Without an equal division of the water resources in the country (between the river and the sea) with the Palestinians, and the immediate addition of tens of millions of cubic meters of water to Gaza – not as charity but as an obligation and to make right the consequences of decades of theft – rehabilitation will be no more than an empty slogan, because the human and environmental disaster is already there. Here.