ANAL­Y­SIS Vet­eran peace ac­tivist ex­plains what Is­rael can do to­wards a long-term so­lu­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY GER­SHON BASKIN

TO­DAY,GAZA is dev­as­tated. Its 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple trau­ma­tised, wounded,largely un­em­ployed and in de­spair. Half a mil­lion are home­less. Hav­ing faced thou­sands of tons of bombs and 40,000 Is­raeli soldiers in­vad­ing on the ground, Gaza, as de­scribed by jour­nal­ists who have vis­ited in the past days, looks like an earthquake zone — en­tire ar­eas com­pletely lev­elled. Bil­lions of dol­lars will be re­quired to re­build it.

Although about 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is un­der the age of 14, there is al­most no il­lit­er­acy in Gaza. There are five uni­ver­si­ties. Be­fore the war, there were seven hos­pi­tals, now there are five.

There are no ad­vanced med­i­cal ser­vices of­fer­ing ser­vices such as can­cer care, dial­y­sis or trans­plants. Ex­ist­ing un­der eco­nomic block­ades for the past seven years, the econ­omy of Gaza has been de­stroyed.

Once,Gaza­hadapro­duc­tiveecon­omy with hun­dreds of small fac­to­ries and work­shops.Therew­ere­many­sub­con­trac­tors for Is­raeli com­pa­nies — at the peak,some120,000Gazansworkedin Is­rael.

Gazans are ed­u­cated, in­dus­tri­ous and en­tre­pre­neur­ial — they are sur­vivors. Most Gazans are de­scen­dants of refugees from1948who­havenot­givenuptheir hope for the right of re­turn to their orig­i­nal homes and vil­lages in Is­rael which, for the most part, no longer ex­ist. Nonethe­less, most of them have built a new life for them­selves in the Strip. Most Gazans­dreamof havinganor­mallife—a home, fam­ily, job, food on their ta­ble, the abil­ity to travel and move freely. Most Gazans­donot­wake­upinthe­morn­ing and­think­abouthowth­ey­can­de­stroy Is­rael or kills Jews.

I have not vis­ited in Gaza since June 2007whenHa­m­as­con­ducte­d­its­bloody coup and the Strip be­came off lim­its for Is­raelis. But I had vis­ited there many­timesin the past and al­ways en­joyed my vis­its there. Gazans are coastal peo­ple — the sea in­flu­ences life and even when­dow­nand­out,awal­ka­longthe shore can brighten even the dark­est day. The area has huge po­ten­tial for change, devel­op­ment and even pros­per­ity.

The will­ing­ness of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nityled­bytheoil-richArab world to pro­vide fi­nance for Gaza’s re­con­struc­tion makes it a task which is doable. But what is the sense in re­build­ing, only for it to be de­mol­ished in a new roundof war?

Some Is­raeli lead­ers have pro­posed the for­mula of re­con­struc­tion in ex­change for de­com­mis­sion­ing. The ra­tio­nale for this pro­posal is if we throw enough­money­atthep­rob­lem,itwill go away. But the prob­lem is not solely thelackof eco­nomicde­vel­op­men­tand op­por­tu­nity. The main prob­lem is the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

Gaza is part of Pales­tine — it is part of the Pales­tinian con­scious­ness, part of its iden­tity, part of its soul and can­not be de­tached from the rest of the Pales­tini­anIs­raeli con­flict. Ha­mas is not only an Is­lamic move­ment; it is a Pales­tinian na­tional move­ment.

It seeks to lib­er­ate Pales­tine first and only then to con­vert it into an Is­lamic state. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that even though it had full con­trol over Gaza since 2007, the Ha­mas govern­ment in Gaza was a sec­u­lar one, not an Is­lamic govern­ment.

Ha­mas is part of the Pales­tinian peo­ple and its base of sup­port is firm within that so­ci­ety. It thrives on con­flict and prof­its from vi­o­lence — its own and that used against it.

If Ha­mas has the abil­ity to claim even the small­est vic­tory, the sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity of the en­tire sur­round­ing re­gion could be in dan­ger.

How­ever, if the “ben­e­fits” of this war­could­be­cred­it­ed­tothePLOand its leader, Mah­moud Ab­bas, and if that leads to a gen­uine peace process of se­ri­ous di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions in which Gaza is in­cluded in the fu­ture Pales­tinian state, there could be pos­i­tive out­comes for all, in­clud­ing Is­rael.

Right now, that de­ci­sion is very much in the hands of the Is­raeli govern­ment. But it seems that the govern­ment of Is­rael, and its prime min­is­ter have yet to make a de­ci­sion on the geo-strate­gic changes it would like to see af­ter this war and what it is pre­pared to do to im­ple­ment­thosechanges. Ger­shon Baskin is the Co-Chair­man of IPCRI, the Is­rael Pales­tine Creative Re­gional Ini­tia­tives, and the ini­tia­tor and ne­go­tia­tor for the re­lease of Gi­lad Shalit


Mah­moud Ab­bas

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