Thursday, April 09, 2009

Gaza first

A thought experiment, or a modest proposal?

Avi Trengo, an Israeli journalist, indulges in a momentary fantasy here:

Israel's current government is composed of persons whose worldview is more sober than that of their predecessors. They recognize the futility of the "peace process" (clueless European statesmen are enamoured with the term "process", but peace has not been advanced by it). Conversely, the clear-headed Right realizes that we must back away from dominating another people forever.

Netanyahu and Lieberman are holding in their hands the possibility of reversing the status quo. If Obama and the Europeans are so intent on the two-state solution, then, go ahead. Hamastan in Gaza can be regarded as a pilot scheme for a Palestinian state. Can it comply with the requisite conditions that would qualify it for gaining international recognition?

Israel can no longer afford to be perceived by the world at large as a peace rejectionist. Calls for economic boycotting of Israel gain momentum every day and in Europe many bodies implement a silent boycott. The one-state solution is being pushed by radical factions as the alternative to the two-state solution, which includes a no-win situation for Israel: allowing the vote to millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories, combined with the demographic increase of Israeli-Arabs, Israel will soon become a bi-national state.

This problem lead to Sharon's disengagement plan and turned him from one of the most hated leaders in the world to the darling of world leaders. Netanyahu and Lieberman can take the disengagement idea to its logical conclusion.

Israel should treat Gaza as a fully independent sovereign state, while putting to it and its neighbour to south (Egypt) clearly delineated conditions.

In order to forestall various complaints hurled against Israel, the economic disengagement between Israel and Gaza must be complete. You want independence? Take it, with all that it entails. No goods will pass from the Israeli side. There is no control, anyway, over what gets transported through the Philadelphi tunnels so that the reason for Israeli supervision for security reasons is no longer compelling.

Israel has become a laughing stock and was bombarded with condemnations when it imposed restrictions over the products that go through while a thriving smuggling trade, from pasta and soap to Hamas projectiles of any kind kept flowing through the tunnels. The solution is patently obvious: bring out the clandestine trade into the open and make simple demands to Egypt and the UN: They will both cooperate in disarming Gaza, in return for Israel withdrawing any claims over the Rafah border crossing.

Egypt and Gaza will manage the border crossings on their own. The tunnels will become redundant, as all legitimate trade will take place above board, flowing from Egypt into Gaza. Egypt's excuse that the tunnels are used for smuggling food, and Hamas' demands for removing the "blockade" will vanish.

Israel will issue a declaration insisting that any international player that wishes to be involved in the conflict will be required to acknowledge that Israel is no longer Gaza's occupier. Israel will call on the UN to look for solutions to the residential crowdedness in Gaza and to put an end to the "refugee" status of its inhabitants.

Egypt will have to consider allocating some of the area that stretches between Rafah and El-Arish to relieve the living space of Gazans.

This way, Gaza's dependence on Israel will come to an end immediately. No one will be able to complain that Israel does not allow in Palestinian patients, or that it does not facilitate the passage of activists in the strip, or that it bans money transfers. Go to Rafah. The Erez checkpoint is closed down.

Another bonus for Israel will be all those UN personnel and foreign correspondents who currently enjoy the good life in Jerusalem while on their periodical excursions into Gaza, they take the opportunity to make some Israel-bashing speech or write an anti-Israel article. They will have to move the center of their operations to El-Arish in Sinai.

Gaza will become a place in which the UN in Africa is active on the outskirts of the Egyptian government. When did you last see such a place at the centre of international attention?

Water and power infrastructures will be gradually transferred to facilities that will be built with Egypt's assistance. Israel should propose a tight schedule for the transfer. The world having pledged billions of dollars for the "rehabilitation of Gaza" should funnel some of these funds into the construction of these infrastructural facilities in Egypt and connecting them to Gaza.

Israel will commit to allowing the Gazans to build their own seaport in the next three years. There is no security risk involved. If the Hamas government should allow a Karin A type arms ship to dock at its port, the Israeli secret services will know how to deal with it. In return, Israel must ask to conclude the Shalit deal, while maintaining the principle of uni-lateralism. Israel will decide who will be released in return for the kidnapped soldier, and certainly those will have to be Gazan prisoners.

Thus the Islamic state of Gaza will be launched and the world will judge if Gaza state can meet the minimal set of terms required for gaining international legitimacy: governing its own citizens, without blaming Israel and without harming its neighbours.

I'm not quite sure about the suitability of applying the term "modest proposal" to this proposed programme, since it is based on eminently solid principles universally acknowledged, such as Palestinian self-determination, viability of a Palestinian state, the bringing about of an end to occupation or Israel's lingering obligations towards Gazan Palestinians. There is nothing outrageous about the premise, unless, of course, you are Hosnei Mubarak. And that is the rub. Egypt would never agree to such a solution. Why? Hard to answer this question. Maybe because Egyptians are not known for their generosity or affection to Palestinians except in their current form, where they serve as very convenient pawns in the eternal Arab chess game of diverting the inhabitants of the "Arab street" from noticing what really inhibits their possibility of thriving?


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