Israel's Lapid Presents Plan for Gaza Reconstruction, Saying Wars and Blockade Are Not Working

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Palestinian street vendors next to the rubble of destroyed buildings after an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, in July.
Palestinian street vendors next to the rubble of destroyed buildings after an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, in July.Credit: Khalil Hamra/AP

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid presented on Sunday a new proposal for the development of the Gaza Strip, saying that Israel’s policy since it withdrew from the coastal enclave in 2005, which included restrictions on movement and commerce, has not been effective in preventing attacks by Hamas and other armed groups.

Speaking at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Lapid called for “economy in exchange for security,” which “would create stability on both sides of the border” in a two-step plan entailing concepts that are by no means new, but that have not yet been implemented. 

Describing his proposal as a “necessary policy” for Israel’s involvement in the reconstruction of Gaza, Lapid’s presentation comes ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s upcoming meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who is spearheading the international community’s efforts to reach a long-term agreement with respect to Gaza. Lapid noted that both Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz back his position, but did not shy away from clarifying that it is not an official government plan. 

“The international community and the residents of Gaza must know that Hamas’ terrorism is preventing them from leading a normal life,” Lapid argued. 

Yair Lapid speaking at Reichman University in Herzliya, on Sunday.Credit: Ronen Topelberg

In that vein, Lapid emphasized that he is not suggesting that negotiations be conducted with Hamas. Instead, he laid forth a vision of an internationally-brokered arrangement to be overseen by Egypt and other global players, and involving the active participation of the Palestinian Authority, which controls only the West Bank but is recognized the world over as the representative of the Palestinian people.

"We can't accept this reality,” the foreign minister said. “The State of Israel has a duty to tell its citizens we have turned every stone in an attempt to deal with the Gazan issue." 

“In Gaza we can and should act now,” Lapid said, even as he pointed to the current political climate of both Israel and the West Bank, where conditions are not right for direct negotiations: in Israel, a new government said it would not seek to restart direct negotiations with the Palestinians, and in the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas’ popularity has been plummeting.

The first phase of Lapid’s plan would include overhauling Gaza’s electricity, health and transportation systems. During that time, he said, Israel would maintain full control of the supply of electricity and water to Gaza, but the Palestinian Authority would resume control over Gaza’s border crossings.

The second phase, to follow an unspecified period of calm, would include major infrastructure projects, including opening a seaport, connecting the Strip to the West Bank and encouraging international investment in the local economy. At this point, according to Lapid’s proposal, the Palestinian Authority would regain full control of Gaza.

“The solution I present here isn’t perfect,” Lapid said, “But I don’t see any downside. As long as Hamas’ leadership in Gaza maintains calm, the reality there will change dramatically.” 

Lapid said he plans to bring the proposal to the cabinet for its consideration, noting that he had already discussed it with leaders from Egypt, the Gulf States, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and European Union representatives.

Last month, the head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, met with Bennett and invited him to visit Egypt and meet with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. Following the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in May, Cairo reasserted itself as a key mediator. 

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