Opinion

What if Israel Let Gaza Have an Airport, Gas Field and Desalination Plant?

Netanyahu hasn’t done anything for a decade to change the awful strategic balance that has emerged between us and Gaza

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Sara Abu Taqea, 23, who works in the maternity ward at Gaza's Al-Ahli hospital, and her friend at the seaport in Gaza City, November 27, 2018.
\ SAMAR ABO ELOUF/ REUTERS

What if we had done the reverse? Let’s say Israel had allowed the construction of a deepwater port for Gaza, the rebuilding of the Strip’s airport and even the building of a desalination plant so Gazans could have a reliable supply of drinking water.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 26Haaretz

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Israel had allowed the development of the natural-gas field offshore Gaza. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak transferred the rights to these reserves to the Palestinian Authority. The second intifada broke out afterward.

Barak’s successor, Ariel Sharon, opposed all development of the Palestinian gas. He claimed the revenue would be used for terror and it would be better to import gas from Egypt. British Gas, which held the rights to develop the Palestinian gas reserves, gave up; the exploration license expired. Ever since, a treasure has lain off the Gaza coast that could transform the territory, supplying all its electricity needs and raising living standards. But no one even talks about this. After all, it’s inconceivable for Israel to allow Palestinian gas development.

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Even today, despite all the disappointments, states and companies could presumably be found to take on such ambitious projects, with the potential to transform the Strip. Projects this size would employ tens of thousands, lowering Gaza’s horrific unemployment rate. They would offer hope to 1.5 million desperate people and reduce Gaza’s direct dependence on Israel and Egypt.

But the defense establishment is opposed, and there’s no way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would go against its recommendations (except in the case of purchasing submarines). Of course, the entire defense establishment doesn’t object, but the heads of the defense agencies always have an interest in opposing such moves: If the moves succeed, they won’t get credit; if they fail, there’ll be a commission of inquiry.

Besides, it’s indecent, leftist and naive to view economic development as having a mitigating effect on a declining security situation. Who would be crazy enough to suggest such a thing? Those same generals who brought us to the current awful situation would immediately explain that a port would be used to smuggle in game-changing weapons, and the planes would be crashed into our homes, and the gas revenue would go toward strengthening Hamas.

How long did it take Israel to paralyze the Palestinian airport at Dahaniyeh at the beginning of the second intifada? A minute and a half? What harm could come from trying to rebuild it? In any case it would take years. Perhaps some good would come of it, perhaps there could be a change in direction. Hamas won’t change its spots, but even it has no interest in confronting a population that sees some kind of positive horizon.

A Palestinians girl on May 6, 2019, stands in front of the rubble of a building that was destroyed during Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City. -
AFP

What’s more, such projects would be an excellent way to inject the Palestinian Authority back into the Gaza Strip in some form. One assumes that Israel would condition any such construction on Hamas not operating it. Obviously, nothing happens in the Gaza Strip without Hamas, and Hamas would be involved, but so would the Palestinian Authority.

The outlines of the Israeli debate about Gaza are depressing. Benny Gantz is attacking from the right over a lack of deterrence, while the right they are attacking Netanyahu over a lack of decisiveness. The prime minister is seemingly maintaining the most moderate, conciliatory position because he has repeatedly avoided a full confrontation.

But at the same time, Netanyahu hasn’t done anything for a decade to change the awful strategic balance that has emerged between us and Gaza. His room to maneuver ranged from increasing the amount of goods entering through Kerem Shalom on the good days to reducing the fishing zone on bad days. There’s no new thinking, zero creativity, only the hope that the Egyptians will succeed in buying us a little more quiet and if not, we’ll launch Operation Protective Edge II or Operation Cast Lead III, or anything — lest we not be portrayed as naifs who believe that carrots might also be important.