Bennett, Gaza Must Be Reconstructed

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Members of the Nassir family sit inside their home, heavily damaged by airstrikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, in June.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is once again offering the standard catchphrases as a solution to the new conflict that has erupted along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. But “we’re ready for any scenario” and “we’ll respond at a time and place of our choosing” provide no reassurance to residents of communities near Gaza, or to the family of Border Policeman Bar'el Hadaria Shmueli, who was wounded by a Palestinian sniper and remains in critical condition.

Because what’s happening along the border isn’t a scenario. It’s a permanent reality that dictates the rules of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and will continue to threaten Israel’s security as long as it’s defined as an “incident,” “scenario” or “response.”

Six years ago, Bennett surprised Israelis when, in an interview with Channel 2 television, he declared, “We have a major interest in the civilian reconstruction of Gaza ... I’m approaching this with something called common sense. I look at reality as it is. If the moment arrives when we decide to topple Hamas, we can do so, and perhaps that moment will arrive. But as long as that isn’t the situation, we need to take the initiative.” Bennett made these remarks as part of his criticism of the way the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza was handled. Today, he is prime minister, and he has both the authority and the ability to implement the wise proposal he unveiled back then.

Rehabilitating Gaza isn’t essential solely to neutralize the motivation to attack Israel. It’s also necessary to rescue two million Palestinians from living in oppressive poverty and to offer them an economic horizon, without which they have nothing to lose. Israel’s agreement, given only after exhaustive and unnecessary discussions, to allow Qatari aid money to enter Gaza is no substitute for a comprehensive rehabilitation. Allowing this money in is only a temporary remedy.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz – who vehemently opposed letting the money into Gaza and sought to condition it, as well as other moves to rebuild Gaza, on Hamas’ release of its Israeli captives and the bodies of slain Israeli soldiers – evidently hasn’t learned anything from all those vaunted operations in Gaza, some of which he presided over as the chief of staff. It seems as if Gantz won’t rest until he has ignited a new military conflict that, like its predecessors, will be useless and pointless.

If Bennett hasn’t changed his mind since presenting Gaza’s rehabilitation as a “major Israeli interest,” he must overcome the Gantz obstacle and implement the only scenario that might buy quiet and hasn’t yet been tried. Rehabilitating Gaza, with international help and under Egypt’s auspices; opening the border crossings to commerce; increasing the number of Palestinian workers in Israel and even building a port in Gaza admittedly won’t negate the national aspirations of either Hamas or Gaza’s residents. But they might prove to be effective brakes against violent conflict.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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