Opinion

Trump's Artless Deal: How Not to Rescue Gaza’s Economy

His $1 billion plan to develop infrastructure would leave Gaza the basket case that it is, and do nothing to end the violence

Not the right direction to peace
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

I’m no expert on brain function, but even an amateur like me can see that whatever part of the brain that distinguishes between friend and foe isn’t functioning in the Trump White House.

Last week, the president left a meeting of the G-7 -- America’s closest friends -- in a hissy fit to powwow with the North Korean dictator. He then agreed to suspending the U.S.'s war games with South Korea and Japan, without informing them, much less consulting with them. This week has barely begun and now we learn that the White House is preparing a plan for the Gulf nations to shower Gaza and its Hamas rulers, no friends of America, with as much as $1 billion of foreign aid.

If there's a Palestinian side that's more amiable to the American camp, it's the Palestinian Authority, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He advocates for negotiations over violence and has aligned himself with the West and its regional allies. What Abbas has gotten in return is to be ignored and insulted by Trump, no less than the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile, Hamas, a sworn enemy of Israel and an ally of Iran, can look forward to a windfall arranged by the same White House that regards Tehran as a mortal enemy.

Here you see the future site of

The logic behind Trump's aid plan is that if Gaza’s severe economic malaise can be alleviated, then the level of violence will be lowered and the White House peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians as a whole will stand a better chance of getting off the ground.

Actually, Trump isn't proposing that the Gulf send a billion dollars to Hamas exactly. The money would be spent on huge infrastructure projects in the northern Sinai – which means, in Egypt, near the border with Gaza.

The idea presumably is that although the projects are designed to serve Gaza, meanwhile Hamas wouldn't be able to siphon off any of the money and building materials and machinery for the armed resistance.But how could an ambitious undertaking like this could possibly happen in a timeframe that would have any impact on the peace process even if Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are already fantasizing on a second term for their boss?

Infrastructure projects don’t happen overnight. Gaza is desperately short of electric power, clean water and jobs, but financing, designing and building solar power farms, desalination plants and industrial zones takes time. That’s especially the case if it is going to be a multinational effort led by the U.S., financed by the Gulf and based on Egypt.

All any Gazan will see for some time to come is maybe a sleek website and some “Future Site of” signs, if he can get across the border.

But the bigger problem of the scheme is the same problem that has plagued all economic aid to the Palestinians since the early days of Oslo.

Political leaders and officials adore programs with budgets, milestones and demonstrable results they can take credit for – a clinic here, a school there, industrial zone somewhere else and a highway connecting them all.

These kinds of projects generate some local jobs and often address basic human needs. But they rarely act as a catalyst for actual economic growth.

Decades of foreign aid around the world has demonstrated this over and over again.

In the case of Gaza, the electricity and water crisis do need to be addressed. But they won’t solve Gaza’s deeper problem, which is a virtually non-existent economy.

Israel’s blockade; Hamas’ corruption and stunning indifference to economic development; and a steady flow of international aid have created an economy of handouts.

Gazans don’t starve or succumb to disease but few of them have much to do all day – a fact testified by the enclave’s 44% unemployment rate and 60% rate for youth. It’s not just that the future looks bleak, the present is empty, too, without the kind of everyday activity of working and supporting a family most of the world takes for granted. Why shouldn’t a young Gazan turn to violence?

The Trump plan doesn't entirely ignore that problem. Supposedly it will be Gazans who would build the Sinai infrastructure and work in the industrial zone.

But politically, it’s hard to imagine Cairo allowing sizable numbers of Gazans across the border every day any more than you can imagine Israel doing it. It’s also hard to imagine how many Gazans have the construction skills to build a solar or desalination plant, much less operate one.

In any case, once the construction phase is over, these kinds of facilities don’t employ lots of people.

For Gaza to return to some semblance of normality, it needs to create employment from the ground up, by creating opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Given how low the base has fallen after a more than a decade of economic decline, the opportunities are endless. In Gaza, it would be enough for some people to open a small workshop or a store for economic development to happen. Starting a high-tech company or an industrial combine is something for much later.

Israel’s role in this is to ease the blockade, which is obvious to everyone but Israel. The army is aware of the solution, but either the government isn't, or more probably, it finds it politically unpalatable. 

Hamas’ role is just as important, but it’s even less likely than Israel to fulfill it. It would mean abandoning the idea of Gaza as an armed camp mobilized to fight Israel. Hamas would no longer be leading the resistance but fixing potholes and administering regulations, and that’s not what Hamas is about.

Gaza’s curse is that foreign aid can’t save it, only Hamas and Israel can, and neither is willing.