Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz has presented U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt with his plan to create an artificial island off the coast of the Gaza Strip where a sea port would be built along with infrastructure that would serve the Palestinian residents of Gaza, Katz said at a press briefing Wednesday.
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According to Katz, Greenblatt expressed willingness to persuade the U.S. government to promote the issue.
Katz presented his plan to Greenblatt when he joined a meeting between Netanyahu and the American envoy in March at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem. Katz said that he presented Greenblatt with two regional economic initiatives during the meeting.
The first, dubbed the "separation plan" from Gaza, which Katz has been advocating for over the last few years, includes the construction of an island adjacent to the Gaza coast where a port would be built along with electric and water facilities that would allow Gaza's residents to have an economic connection to the world without harming Israel's security.
Over the last year-and-a-half, Katz has tried a number of times to raise the concept of an artificial island near Gaza for discussion in the security cabinet. The issue was briefly raised in multiple cabinet meetings but never benefited from significant discussions.
Senior officers in the Israeli army support Katz's idea and think it should be discussed seriously even though the Shin Bet has expressed doubts. Netanyahu hasn't expressed any particular desire to pursue the issue and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stands in opposition to the initiative.
Katz said that pushing forward with the initiative could help stabilize the economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and thereby prevent another war in the enclave.
The second initiative that Katz presented to Greenblatt, called "Tracks to regional economic peace," includes connecting Jordan, the Palestinians in the West Bank and other Middle Eastern countries to the port in Haifa via a net of Israeli train tracks.
According to the plan, the tracks of the "valley train" would be expanded east up to the "Sheikh Hussein" border crossing with Jordan. The system of Jordanian train tracks is already connected with that of Saudi Arabia. The West Bank would also be connected to the system via tracks that would pass through the Jalama border crossing in the area of Jenin.
"I told Greenblatt that these initiatives would help the connections between Israel, the Sunni Arab countries and the Palestinians as well as change and improve the lives of residents in the area and provide a base for further political initiatives in the future," said Katz.
"The American envoy said that he was deeply impressed and would enlist U.S. President Donald Trump and the American government to pursue the issue," Katz continued. "The U.S. is likely to have an important role in providing political tailwind to the issue and its leadership, as well as that of other countries in the area and internationally, may play an important role in helping to implement it in practice, in planning, in financing and in implementation."
A White House official has since responded:
"While in the region, Jason Greenblatt was on a listening tour. He heard many interesting ideas, including this one. But this is not a U.S. policy decision, rather it is something for the parties and those in the region to work out together. Additionally, at this time, the U.S. does not have sufficient details on these ideas to have an informed position on this."