Stephen Games

A man. A plan. A canal. Palestine!

While the world is understandably appalled by the destruction being caused by Israel in Gaza, no credence is being given to Israel’s clear and legitimate aim: to create a new reality in which Hamas and its own destructive inhumanity is no longer part of the equation. 

But with what long-term aim? The pundits say there isn’t one. I doubt that. Given Israel’s complex and fragmented politics, there are probably several, all at odds with each other.

Here’s mine: an enlarged and unified Palestinian state which solves the problem of the separation of the West Bank and Gaza by absorbing Gaza into Israel and ceding to the Palestinians a piece of land ten times Gaza’s size.

That land would extend south from the West Bank and run along half of Israel’s southern border with Jordan. It would abut a newly created river/canal flowing north from the Gulf of Aqaba, taking water to the Dead Sea, and providing a shipping route to a new port on the north of the Dead Sea, serving Jericho (10 km away), Jerusalem (20 km away) and Amman (30 km away).

The canal would create a massive diversified economy for the new Palestine, first of all by employing huge numbers of Palestinians and Jordanians in its construction, and then by providing opportunities for them to develop new industries in the coastal zones that would grow up on both sides.

It’s unarguable that a scheme like this is needed, because a future state of Palestine cannot be split; Palestinian identity has already been too wounded over the last 16 years by the conflicting politics of Hamas and the PA. Palestinians have to come together, and that necessarily means a contiguous state. There’s no way round it.

Of course everyone will object. I’m asking Israel to give away a large amount of land, much of which currently houses IDF bases and mineral reserves, and the new border on my imaginary sketch map probably crosses the site of Israel’s nuclear research centre at Dimona. There’d have to be some movement here—either of the facility or the map. 

I can already hear the reaction from within Israel. “You think this is a great idea? A new seaway to faciliate the shipping of Iranian weapons to the Palestian heartland? You’re crazy.” And “Don’t you realise that if the Palestinians got hold of a single piece of land, Hamas would assassinate the PA’s leaders—again—and run the place themselves?” And “Aren’t you aware that the Palestinians are incapable of economic growth? That’s why they spend their money—our money—on tunnels and weapons, or spirit it away into private bank accounts.” 

And most truculently: “This isn’t our problem; it’s their problem. The Palestinians are the victims of their own obdurate blindness. It’s for them and the wider Arab world to deal with this problem, not the Jews.”

Yes, I’m aware of all that. I’m aware also that Gazans will not want to be relocated, and that in suggesting that they should be, I am behaving in that same insensitive way that the Allies behaved when carving up the world after the 1914–18 war, ignoring the wishes of the very people they claimed to be acting on behalf of and storing up problems for generations to come.

I might point out, by way of reply, that if the interests of Gaza’s fishing community were respected, and if the new seaway could be kept separate from the super-salinated waters originating from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan, the proposed link from Eilat to Ein Bokek could be designed to accommodate new fisheries, and thereby bequeath a rich new industry to Gazan fishermen.

To me, that sounds sensational. Others will insist that one cannot forcibly relocate two million people, that the Gazans are attached to their land and to the sea, and that Gaza is their home—that it’s not merely a matter of finding somewhere else for them to go fishing.

That’s undoubtedly true. On the other hand, we are constantly being told by the Palestinians and UNRWA that there are no “Gazans”—that the population of Gaza is made up mostly, of “refugees” who are housed there in “refugee camps” because they were dispossessed from wherever they had lived previously, and have been imprisoned there against their will by Israel. Which is it? Home or prison? It cannot be that Gaza is sometimes the Gazans’ home and sometimes not, according to which definition they find more expedient at any moment.

Against all of that, there is the issue of what the upside might be to this two-state proposal. It seems to me the upsides are enormous and astonishing and hugely attractive. 

A 200 kilometre canal from Eilat to Ein Bokek creates endless possibilities for the West Bank’s landlocked Palestinians, providing them with a waterway leading to the Red Sea and then north via the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, and south to the Indian Ocean. That’s a pretty big deal—exactly the sort of access that explains Putin’s hunger for Ukraine and a warm-water port. It creates for this new Palestine a new hub for world trade.

Such a massive infrastructure project would give the Palestinian population a real economic future and provide employment to the masses of Palestinian youths, currently trapped by unemployment and twisted ideology. It would also provide a tangible basis for peace through commerce, with the outside world and with Israel.

Why hand the Palestinians such an advantage? Because they need it. For decades, their own corrupt and blinkered leaders have betrayed them, to the point that they are now incapable of liberating themselves. Known—and hated—throughout the Middle East as “the Jews of Arabia”, these people could be our closest allies; now is the time to show them how we can be their real friends—how we can see a future for them that those who claim to be their allies don’t have the slightest idea of. 

Faced with an offer like this, Israelis and Palestinians alike will of course prefer to keep tight hold of the suicidal status quo that divides them rather than hazard the kind of flexible thinking that promises a radical improvement in lifestyle and prospects for them both—and for the watching world.

And that’s in spite of the lively intelligence of people on both sides. In London, the BBC has commissioned various Gaza residents to record video diaries that can be played out on the corporation’s news services, illustrating how Israel’s bombardment of them is affecting their lives. 

One diarist, 27-year-old Ayat Hadura, tells the world, via her video, that “We are a people full of life, of ambition and creativity and positive ideas—we like change and we want to develop our community,” a laudable boast that’s immediately dented when her explanation for the bombing of Gaza reveals not openness and receptivity but incarceration in the delusory mindset that Gazans have adopted to survive the brutalising not of Israel but Hamas—or perhaps both.

Actual change—but this is true for Israelis and Palestinians—requires real creativity, and creativity involves compromise and risk of failure and—oh horror—a possible loss of face.

So, my plan isn’t perfect, but it’s a plan and it looks at ways forward, instead of doing what everyone else seems to be doing—obsessing about the past and drowning in seas of mutual loathing and recrimination. This plan embodies a rational appraisal of where we have to go from here. What it needs is constructive feedback that will tweak it into a better plan. I welcome your feedback—on this page. But be polite, please.

About the Author
Stephen Games is a designer, publisher and award-winning architectural journalist, formerly with the Guardian, BBC and Independent. He was until Spring 2018 a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, habitually questioning its unwillingness to raise difficult questions about Israel, and was a board member of his synagogue with responsibility for building maintenance and repair. In his spare time he is involved in editing volumes of the Tanach and is a much-liked barmitzvah teacher with an original approach, having posted several videos to YouTube on the cantillation of haftarot and the Purim Megillah.