There is something ironic and self-contradictory about the Israeli Right’s plans for managing the conflict instead of solving it: Israel doesn’t have a real interest in truly disconnecting from Gaza. And Gaza isn’t going anywhere.
By Itamar Sha’altiel
Over the past several years Yoaz Hendel has been been positioning himself as a natural candidate to be Israel’s prime minister. With a column in Yedioth Ahronoth, his own radio show and an opinion on everything, Hendel is everywhere. Among other things, he also has an opinion on Gaza. It’s worth taking a look at:
According to Hendel, Israel has only two option: replace Hamas or turn Gaza from a “non-defined entity into a proper enemy state.” The first option is irrelevant. If we replace Hamas, he says, we’ll face another regime that will act against Israel. Therefore the second option is the only relevant one — properly disconnecting from Gaza:
Absurdly, Israel continues to supply Gaza with electricity, water and infrastructure. We disengaged from the Strip but not completely. In order to completely shut the valve we need to create alternatives. The possibility of importing and exporting from other countries (under Israeli supervision) is economically motivated. Demilitarization won’t happen (and it isn’t happening now, for those who haven’t been paying attention), but full cooperation with Egypt can reduce the smuggling of weapons.
This paragraph contains Hendel’s only political strategy vis-a-vis Gaza. Really. Read the original. These are the main principles:
– Disconnecting Israeli infrastructure, while creating alternatives
– Allowing imports and exports under Israeli supervision
– Full cooperation with Egypt for the reduction of weapons smuggling into Gaza
Between imagination and reality
It isn’t fair to ask Hendel to lay out a fully developed plan on his Facebook page. It is difficult, however, to ignore the big question marks in his remarks. Hendel writes that we need to create “alternatives” for the electricity, water and infrastructure that Israel supplies Gaza. (Israel actually sells them, but who has time for details?) He does not delve into these alternatives. The power station in Gaza has been partially operating for years, and even if all of its turbines are fixed it will not be able to supply enough electricity for all of Gaza’s residents. Does Hendel think about building a new power station? Where will the gas come from? Who will provide the building supplies? And what about water? And Internet? And phones? Hendel does not go into details.
The second clause is even more confusing. Hendel claims that importing and exporting must be done under Israeli supervision, which likely means that he is hoping for goods to move through an Israeli crossing. This is the situation today. In what way is Hendel’s plan different? It’s not clear. Will Israelis be allowed to sell goods to Gaza? Will Gaza’s merchants be able to sell goods in the West Bank? In Israel? And what about goods exported abroad – they need to pass through Israeli territory and reach Ben-Gurion Airport, the Ashdod Port or Allenby Bridge. Will this be possible? Maybe Hendel is thinking about a port? An island? And how will Israel supervise such trade? What is the “economic motivation” he is talking about?
Even if we ignore the third clause, it is clear that Hendel is not really presenting us with a plan. It’s not even a text. These are just words. There is nothing to see, aside from the right wing’s old dream: “a complete disengagement from Gaza.” This is only a step beyond those like MK Moshe Feiglin, who believe that Israel must re-occupy the strip and expel most of its residents.
I have already interacted with Hendel; he is neither a fair nor learned person. But Hendel is far less interesting than his plan. Disengaging from Gaza is the real, old dream of the Israeli Right – a dream that is driven by the unfair living conditions in Israel. How can we sell them gas when they shoot at us? Not fair, it’s true. But one cannot imagine foreign policy based on how fair or unfair the world is. It doesn’t work.
Israel has an interest in Gaza
Gaza is here. It has a population of more than 1.7 million, most of them young and dependent on humanitarian aid. They are not an island. They have relatives in the West Bank and East jerusalem. Even worse, they have relatives in Israel. That’s how it is. It’s unfair, but they aren’t going to disappear. The pollution on the beaches of Gaza will reach the beaches of Israel. That’s how it is. When the cows in Gaza become sick, the towns in southern Israel will need to vaccinate their cattle. That’s how it is. The economy in the Strip will not become rehabilitated without marketing goods to Israel and the West Bank. That’s how it is. Gaza isn’t going anywhere. Egypt won’t “take responsibility for it” and even if it did, a Palestinian in Gaza will still want to meet his father in the West Bank. The grocer will have an easier time selling his goods in Israel than in Europe. That’s how it is.
And there is no good reason why Israel should want to disengage from Gaza. On the contrary, Israel has economic interests in the Strip. The Right loves to decry these interests, although anyone who has ever spoken to someone in the field knows just how strong these interests are. The opposite is also true: Israel used to be a huge market for Gaza, and still has the potential to be one in the future. There is no good reason to work with sewing workshops in Jordan, just as there is no good reason for Israelis not to buy vegetables or employ residents from Gaza. If we listen to the loudest voices on the Right, we’ll hear that the tools Israel has at its disposal are rather limited: closure, military operations and daydreams about a proper, real disengagement. Even in terms of “managing the conflict,” this worldview is rather limited.
It seems that the previous government understood this, at least as it relates to Gaza. The rehabilitation of the Strip is proceeding far too slowly and may result in an explosion. But quietly, economists and politicians are talking about allowing residents of Gaza to work in Israel. This is a huge change. There is no sign that anyone in the government has given up on “managing the conflict,” but at least they understand that they can do a better job.
The Israeli Left and Right are arguing about whether or not there is a Palestinian partner. This is an important argument, and it is obvious what the right-wing skepticism is based on. The Right offered a simple deal to the Israeli public: we will manage the conflict while the bickering continues. For a while it seemed like the deal was working, at least for most Israelis. But now, when everything is blowing up in our faces, more and more people in the Right are losing their patience. Managing the conflict carries a price that the right wing isn’t willing to pay. Therefore they have begun speaking about anti-terror legislation and a second Nakba. That is why they are talking about a military operation in East Jerusalem. There is no real difference between these plans and the plan to either “disengage from Gaza” or destroy it completely. These fantasies are dangerous, but they are also childish. And this is what most scares the Right today: that the conflict is just too much for them.
Itamar Sha’altiel is the new media director at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. This article represents his own views. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.