Tuesday 22 July 2014

In the aftermath of the Gaza War: A Mini Marshall Plan to break the vicious circle

1. Amidst the sadness frustration and anger we have to think where to go next once a cease fire is agreed. The Israelis showed restraint and humanity in conducting this war. The IDF displayed yet again its moral rectitude facing death and provocation. However once the guns are silenced Israel and the region have to invoke reason and wisdom in dealing with the aftermath. The continuous vicious circle has to be broken and replaced with a new thinking rooted in reason and wisdom and not in emotion and ideologies. The Israeli leadership must initiate and push for a comprehensive plan to delineate a future course for Gaza. We all have to be positive and creative. The real victims of the present confrontation between Hamas and Israel are the 1.7 million Palestinians living today in Gaza. They are our neighbours and will continue to be so. Paradoxically if handled wisely by Israel and the west, they can emerge as the war's main beneficiary.  How? 

2. Like everything else in the Middle East we have to start with geography and demography, and only then build our analysis and conclusions. The Palestinians are Sunnis and so are the Egyptians. Gaza’s borders are: Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean. Today its population is imprisoned within these three sides resulting in a pressure cooker situation which was bound sooner or later, eventually and predictably to explode. It exploded three times in the last five years, but this time the situation is different. Hamas has proved to be a formidable enemy with a well equipped and disciplined army, innovative and far sighted. It is useless for Israelis to take that lightly and, hankering to the past, keep repeating how we fought and won so many past wars against the Palestinians and our neighbours. It is not victory we need but positive long term peaceful co-existence.  Power and force have to be tempered with wisdom and charity to produce peace. It is more productive to analyse the present leaving the past to historians.

3. Egypt's General Al-Sisi has broken completely the strength of the Islamist Brotherhood at home. Hamas is a branch of the Moslem Brotherhood, and so is Qatar's leadership. The last thing that General Al-Sisi wants is to join Qatar and  be part of  any solution of the present crisis. Erdogan in Turkey is neither Ataturk nor Suleiman the Magnificent. He undermined Turkey's pivotal powerful position between East and West, almost wantonly and foolishly, and now he is deep in the Syrian multi ethnic morass. Thus today the only possible mediator is Egypt. It is in its interest and ours for it to assume this role. However Egypt needs the backing of the West and the funds from Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, to stabilize and lift Gaza's population economically from the dire state that it finds itself today  rendering  Hamas irrelevant while reasserting Egypt as the dominant power in the Arab World.

4. For Israel too it is a golden opportunity to separate Gaza in a State or a political entity of its own away from the West Bank, thus sparing itself further conflict with the Palestinians and avoiding future pincer attack simultaneously from Gaza and Hebron.  Hamas is a fervent religious movement which is feeding on the misery, resentment and hatred that Gaza's prison situation engenders. However it is the only government and civil administration there and it is in power at the moment. So any initiative and solution has to include it. An Israeli/Egyptian open cooperation backed by the West could help Gaza today by offering and encouraging a potentially rosy future for its people. But that has to be and perceived to be in the self interest of the three participants, Egypt, Israel and Gaza including its present Hamas Administration. This latter should be maintained as its dismantling will lead to chaos. The grave mistake of Iraq should be avoided here. Hostile civil authority is better than no authority. However any cooperation with Hamas authorities should be confined only to those of its members inside Gaza, The Hamas leadership in exile must be excluded and prevented from coming back. We have to create conditions in Gaza that could motivate its people to prefer peaceful coexistence with us. We cannot impose a government on them; they have to choose themselves the alternative to Hamas. And in time as their situation improves they will.

5. We and the Egyptian on our borders used the big stick to hit the Hamas Government in Gaza. It will work and bring Hamas to a cease fire which could give us a period of quiet interim coexistence. To make that permanent we all need a huge carrot that will move the population to raise their voices against conflict and hostility. This Carrot is a comprehensive and detailed Rehabilitation Plan, a sort of a Mini Marshall Plan that will transform Gaza not to a Singapore but may be more like one of the Gulf Emirates. Gaza has all the resources especially the human educated element to create such an entity. Egypt can help but Israel most of all  can be instrumental in bringing this about.

6. The Saudi Peace Initiative is still on the table for Israel to consider. It has been foolish in the past to ignore it, and of course it is doubly foolish today. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are faced with real dangers from the Shia inside their countries and from their neighbours Iran and Iraq outside. They are also facing an Islamist wave that can engulf them and topple their governments. They want neither Islamist Qatar nor Shiite countries to be part of any rehabilitation plans for Gaza. For those reasons they are ready to fund any future comprehensive plan but only through Egypt.  They have already pledged such funds. In order to avoid these funds ending up in corrupted pockets the Gaza Rehabilitation Authority should be set up in Cairo where all funds have to go through it with some form of international auditing. All this is in order for honesty and probity to be seen to be exercised. Cairo and Egypt will benefit from its pivotal position in all plans, and thus would control any possible hostile infiltration from Gaza into Sinai. As part of this Authority’s remit it would set up an adequate and viable sea port and a small airport to ensure flights to Egypt and Israel and from there to connect to the outside world. Egyptian architects, financial personnel and expertise should provide the backbone of such an Authority and Israel should be ready to add its own to help when called upon. And after all it is only Israel that can provide the electricity and water needed to restore normality to the ordinary people of Gaza.  Gaza will in this way orientate itself towards Egypt. The first fruit of this scheme will be profitable employment in Gaza, which will divert its workers from digging tunnels and preparing missiles.

7. All this and the reconstruction of the local infrastructure in Gaza itself should be undertaken under the supervision of this New Authority. These activities will create immediate employment. In time, Gaza with new hotels and beaches, would attract tourism from all sides including Israelis who are so fond of availing themselves today of Sharm El-Sheikh and other facilities in Sinai. Mutual interest of Israel and Gaza will prove to be the best guarantee for peaceful coexistence between neighbours. Slowly this process will spill over to cultural cooperation in education, literature and the fine art. And here is a word of warning. If the reconstruction of the war damage is left for Hamas to carry out it is a recipe for future disaster because all Donors' contributions will go to revive Hamas and keep its stranglehold on the population. It would be the restart of the vicious circle.

8. And what about the West in all this?  What is the role of America and Europe apart from joining the Donors' Club. They can carry the task of the demilitarisation of Gaza. Such operation here will be much easier than dealing with the chemical weapons in Syria. It would have to be done with the full cooperation of the Hamas Government. This process would convert the Hamas Government into a responsible government for all the people of Gaza. The cooperation will bestow on Hamas the recognition and the respectability it needs to shed the terror label stuck on her for so long. Why should Hamas agree? Because it is exchanging prosperity for a doubtful weaponry which proved time and again to be unable to stand up to the  power of Israel Defence Force, the IDF.

9. Ultimately it is up to the Palestinians, how they want to shape their future. However from Israel’s point of view Gaza has to be separated from the West Bank absolutely to avoid exposing itself in the future to simultaneous pincer attacks from Hebron and Gaza thereby cutting itself in half. Therefore to avoid another conflict and war this physical separation has to be complete whatever Gaza and the West Bank decide to do in the future. Absence of conflict is as much the interest of the Palestinians as that of the Israelis. They may choose to be in a federation the way East and West Pakistan started after Independence. Or they may choose to be two separate States knowing what ultimately happened to Pakistan. As for Israel it will need to deal with each side separately and directly and not via a central authority. Israel cannot prevent the Palestinians to unite if so they choose but it should put in place every necessary measure to prevent direct physical link through Israel between the two sides.  With all the greatest respect and admiration with which Abu Mazen is regarded justifiably by the international community, I believe that he should have no role in dealing with the outcome of the present Gaza War, not least anyway because of the way he is viewed in Gaza. It will be a grave mistake for Israel to support, initiate or encourage Abu Mazen to preside over shaping the final order in Gaza following this war. Hopefully the interrupted negotiations between Tsipi Livni and Saeb Erakat will resume to resolve the impasse in the West Bank.

Aharon Nathan, London, 22nd July 2014
(N.B.  Aharon Nathan set up and headed the first Israeli Civil Administration in the Gaza Strip following the Suez War of 1956)