Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, has called for the implementation of a Gazan version of the Marshall Plan through which the international community would direct large amounts of assistance to improve the economy in the Gaza Strip.
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Mordechai said he believes there is an inseparable link between the conditions the residents of Gaza are enduring including its struggling economy and the security situation. He warned that a continued worsening of the situation there would increase the chances of an escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that has run the strip for the past decade.
So he decided to recommend that Israel support a wide-scale plan that would bring real hope for positive change to the population of Gaza.
Mordechai’s comments came in an article that he authored with the head of the Palestinian affairs department in his office, Col. Michael Millstein, and with Lt. Col. (res.) Yotam Amitay. It was published last week in Hebrew on the website of the Institute for National Security Studies. The three described an ongoing process in which Hamas has seen its power in the strip weakened since has been responsible for Gaza as the poverty and joblessness there has worsened.
A new generation of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 has arisen in the territory, whom the authors of the article describe as relatively educated but frustrated and facing difficulties finding work because of the economic situation in Gaza. This new generation, the authors wrote, “defy the sources of authority and even sometimes demonstrate reservations regarding the traditional ideology.”
In their opinion, Hamas understands that it is only a matter of time until a violent wave of protest, akin to Arab Spring protests elsewhere in the Middle East, could erupt against them.
According to the article, there is a widespread phenomenon of people under the age of 20, mostly residents of refugee camps, who in despair, cross the border into Israel in an effort to be arrested by Israeli authorities who can at least provide them with regular meals. The infiltrators also then generate an income for their families in Gaza. They are considered security prisoners, and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority therefore provide assistance to their families.
Mordechai, Millstein and Amitay warned that this continued state of despair among Gaza residents is accelerating a process of radicalization that could ultimately lead to power in the strip being seized by forces even more extreme than Hamas.
“Without getting into the Israeli interest regarding who controls the Gaza Strip if nothing is done to bring about genuine change in the outlook of the deteriorating reality, we could be faced with a situation in which forces even more extreme than Hamas take control in the future,” the three wrote in the article.
Genuinely good news for the Gaza Strip, the authors wrote, needs to come from “turning the strip into a place that is developing, with advanced industrial zones, tourist areas, innovative means of transportation and infrastructure that responds to the residents’ needs.”
All of this is in stark contrast with the current situation. The writers didn’t specify exactly where the huge amounts of funding necessary for such a project would come from, but they dubbed it as the local version of the Marshall Plan, the economic assistance program that was put in place by the United States to reconstruct Europe after World War II.
The effort, they wrote, needs to be combined with security and economic arrangements, limiting Hamas’ acquisition of military power and a solution to the issue of Israelis missing in the Gaza Strip. They noted that recently an effort was made in that direction as part of the Palestinian reconciliation agreement led by Egypt. Hamas signed the reconciliation agreement with their rivals in Fatah, the faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza to Hamas forces in 2007.
“The process is fundamentally complex, but not impossible. What is mainly missing to advance it is the goodwill of those with interests in the region,” the three wrote. Mordechai and his colleagues did not state what would be required of Israel to implement such a plan, but it clearly could not be advanced in the absence of long-term Israeli agreement, at least indirectly, with Hamas, to direct large sums of money into the enclave and for widespread reconstruction of Gaza.
For his part, Maj. Gen. (res.) Sami Turgeman, who headed the Israeli army’s Southern Command during the 2014 war with Hamas and its allies in Gaza, commented on the weekend on developments in Gaza. In an article on the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he wrote that the current restraint being demonstrated by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza after the Israeli army blew up a tunnel under the Israeli border last week, killing members of the groups, reflects a development that would have been inconceivable in the past.
The Palestinian organizations’ decision to hold their fire is not related to the fact that Israel blew up a tunnel that extended into Israeli territory and therefore conferred more legitimacy for Israel’s step under international law, Turgeman wrote. The main reason for the current restrain, he argued, relates to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement. Although it is limited in its scope, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are seeking to prevent its collapse at such an early stage and neither wants to be seen as responsible for its violation.
Turgeman also presented other explanations for the quiet prevailing in Gaza at this stage. He cited was the high degree of deterrence that Israel created following the fighting in 2014 but also the restraint that Israel has shown in its public statements after destroying the tunnel; the surprise in Gaza over the technological progress that Israel has made in detecting tunnels; and the sense on the part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad that they have still not sufficiently recovered from the fighting in 2014 and have not prepared themselves for another military confrontation with Israel.