While Israel counts the meager hours of electricity allocated each day to Gaza’s 2 million people, a complex arrangement is being cooked up between the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Gaza and Jerusalem. The purpose is to make Mohammed Dahlan, a political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, government chief in Gaza, lift most of the closure imposed on the Strip by Egypt and Israel, build a new power station in Egyptian Rafah funded by the UAE, and later build a port.
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If this political experiment succeeds, Abbas will be pushed into a dark corner and Dahlan will act to take his place, either by elections or de facto recognition of his leadership. Egypt is already sending diesel fuel to Gaza at market prices, but without the taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority. The UAE has earmarked $150 million to build a power station, and Egypt will soon gradually open the Rafah crossing to people and goods.
It’s still too early to assess whether this plan will be fully implemented, and if Hamas will agree to place Dahlan at the head of the Gaza government, a step that could all but sever Gaza from the West Bank, especially given the long feud between Abbas and Dahlan. On the other hand, if the plan does come to fruition, it could make an Israeli-Egyptian dream come true.
For Egypt, the plan holds the promise of an end to Hamas’ cooperation with terror groups in Sinai, and it would give Egypt a way out of the closure it has imposed on Gaza and the possibility of opening the Gaza market to Egyptian goods. For Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the plan’s key is the appointment of Dahlan, who is close to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as head of the “state of Gaza.”
If the appointment is made, it will ensure a split between Gaza and the West Bank that will make it very difficult to negotiate over the future of the territories. But contrary to the situation now, Israel will have a legitimate partner in Gaza. The lifting of the closure, which would no longer mean much after Egypt opened the Rafah crossing, would give Israel another diplomatic dividend that could reduce international pressure, especially by the United States and even if only partially, for Israel to move ahead on negotiations.
Thus, with all due caution, we can say that if the plan is implemented, it will ensure a fine profit for all sides, except for Abbas and Palestinian aspirations to establish a state. True, the plan leaves Hamas in control of security and doesn’t demilitarize it, but Israel would have a partner in Gaza who supports reconciliation with Israel. Qatari and Turkish involvement would be neutralized in the Strip, while Egypt and the UAE, Israel’s new friend, would shore up the agreement if breached.
Anyone who supports “the economy first” as a way around a diplomatic solution, like Netanyahu, Lieberman and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, should embrace this agreement. But so far, not a peep has been heard from Israel. The government, which has already learned from the electricity crisis that it can’t evade responsibility for the Strip, is held captive by the failed concept that what’s good for Hamas is bad for Israel, and what helps Gazans strengthens Hamas. Israel would rather prepare for the next violent clash in the summer, just as long as it doesn’t have to initiate anything or be seen as letting Hamas rule, even though Israel long ago recognized Hamas’ control in Gaza as an advantage.
According to the plan, Israel wouldn’t even have to recognize the new government that would be established in Gaza, and so it wouldn’t have to appear concerned over Abbas’ standing. After exactly 10 years, a fifth of the entire period of the occupation, Gaza has been under closure. Now there might be a chance to change the concept and try a new strategy in which Gazans will be the most important thing, not the status of the Hamas leadership or Israel’s prestige.