There’s something horrifying about the way the State of Israel and the State of Hamas are marching toward another military confrontation. As in the past, Israel does not want bloodshed. As in the past, the Gaza Strip does not want bloodshed either. But as in the past, the inability to initiate a constructive conflict avoidance process is liable to make the next conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza inevitable.
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Though a confrontation does not appear to be imminent, there’s no knowing when one might break out, and on what pretext. But the jackhammers digging the tunnels are like the tom-tom drums beating out the rhythm of the next round of violence, which will cause terrible bloodshed and suffering.
To recap: Around two years ago an ambitious peace initiative by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry collapsed. It was clear to anyone with eyes in their head that it would be catastrophic to leave a negotiating vacuum between Israel and the Palestinians, and that a different process must take the place of the one that failed. But there was no one in Washington, Jerusalem or Ramallah to launch it.
The Gaza war of 2014 erupted less than half a year later, claiming the lives of around 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people on the Israeli side. But even the tragedy of Operation Protective Edge did not bring the parties to their senses. The dangerous vacuum remained, and only a small portion of the money earmarked for rebuilding the Strip reached its destination. The countdown clock along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip began ticking again, after two years.
The next confrontation is not the only problem. The Strip is home to some 1.8 million Palestinians. These people are not our brothers, but they are our neighbors. Many of them are our refugees. For both moral and political reasons, we cannot be indifferent to their fate. We cannot ignore the fact that the narrow, nearby strip of land into which they are crowded is in ruins. We cannot be blind to the fact that these people do not have safe drinking water, do not have sufficient electricity and do not have hope.
Hamas is a hostile, fanatic, totalitarian and organization. But the people who live under Hamas rule are human beings. If we do not enable them to live like human beings, we will push them to the wall and cause them to carry out desperate acts that will bring disaster upon them and make us miserable as well.
So what should be done? We must rebuild the Gaza Strip, big-time. We must use Israeli water technology — the best in the world — to build desalination plants on the shore in order to provide Gazans with safe drinking water. We must make the best use possible of Israel’s newfound offshore fields of natural gas to provide these neighbors with an unlimited supply of cheap energy. We must build power stations and initiate construction projects. We must work with Europe, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to advance a Marshall Plan for the Gaza Strip. We must try to persuade the Egyptians to establish a seaport in northern Sinai that will serve both them and the people of Gaza. We must leave no stone unturned, we must think out of every possible box in order to find ways to fundamentally change the quality of life and the way of life of those people who live on the other side of the Erez crossing and the Kissufim checkpoint.
A Gaza-first, Gaza-now and Gaza-as-much-as-is-possible approach is important for three reasons. First, it will prevent war. Second, it will facilitate a reasonably fair, humane and stable coexistence, even in the absence of peace. And third, it will address the justified fears of Israelis who watched Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip turn into a nightmare of Hamas, mortar shells and rockets.
Only when the people of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Sderot know that the people of Jabalya, Khan Yunis and Rafah are beginning to have a somewhat more sane Mediterranean life will their hearts open up, paving the way once more for dialogue, cooperation and the division of the land.