If the Israeli government has a strategy for Gaza it is not working. Since the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Israel has launched 7 major military interventions in the Gaza Strip (including the most recent engagement in May 2023) without significantly improving the security or quality of life of the residents of the Gaza envelope. Meanwhile Gaza’s 2 million civilian residents remain prisoners inside of Gaza; impoverished, fearful for their lives, lacking clean water, electricity, employment, and hope.
It is possible that multiple Israeli governments’ failures to significantly change the situation for Palestinian civilians in Gaza and Israeli residents of the Gaza envelope are due to implementation of the wrong strategy or failure to implement the right strategy. My guess, however, is that the failure of Israeli governments is due to the lack of a strategy.
With Israeli governments lasting a little over 2-years on average since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, it is no wonder that individual Israeli governments are not capable of planning more than a year or two in advance and have not been able to express a clear long-term goal for Gaza. As Lewis Carrol said: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
There are examples of strategic thinking governments setting long-term goals to significantly improve the economic, political, and social circumstances of weaker societies.
The US government implemented the Marshal Plan after World War II, investing billions of dollars in the economic recovery of Western Europe to stabilize democracies. Within 3 years of the launch of the plan in 1948, the GDP of the 17 European country beneficiaries was back to prewar levels and NATO was founded.
China launched its Road and Belt initiative to promote development and inter-regional connectivity. Since 2013 China has invested billions of dollars in the developing world, building infrastructure and helping to develop countries who are vulnerable to the impact of climate change and population growth. The goal is not only to promote development in vulnerable countries around the world but to create strong allies for China’s aspiration to match the United States in global influence.
These are just two examples of a geopolitical strategy which has made a dramatic difference in relations between countries around the world. Israel’s geopolitical landscape is regional, not global but as a regional military and economic powerhouse and relatively stable democracy, Israel can positively impact its less stable and more vulnerable neighbors. The opportunity, however, to have a significant impact on the destiny of our region can only be achieved with a bold and ambitious long-term vision.
A massive effort led by Israel and the Palestinian Authority and supported by the Gulf states and international funding agencies, to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure could provide clean and adequate drinking water, water for agriculture, sanitation, reliable energy, food security and economic opportunities for a young generation which has lost all hope. A Marshal Plan for Gaza would offer Israel the opportunity to use technology and innovation to help some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Such an initiative would have a positive impact on political relations between Israel, the Arab world, Europe, and the United States. More importantly, it would offer the people of Gaza and their Israeli neighbors in the Gaza envelope, hope that their future does not have to look like the last 18 years. In an article published a year ago in the San Diego Union Tribune, Ofir Libstein, the Head of the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council, which borders on northern Gaza, discusses the establishment of a cross-border industrial zone to provide economic opportunity to the people of Gaza. Ofir says “We know most Gazans, like us, want to live their lives in peace, have meaningful, well-paying jobs and care for themselves and their families. There is a path forward to make that happen.”
A Marshal Plan for Gaza would require long-term thinking and an ability to overcome short-term political expediency. Due to the volatility of Israeli politics, the only way a long-term plan can be implemented is to reach a consensus between the main political parties in Israel on the left, right and center, that ending the cycle of violence between Israel and Gaza is a priority and a goal worth pursuing.
While there is major disagreement among the political blocks in Israel about the future of the West Bank, the positions are not so far apart regarding Gaza. If there is one thing upon which most Israeli politicians agree, it is that Israel does not want to rule over 2 million Gazans. Many, like Ofir Libstein, have come to realize, that the better off Gazans are from an economic, social, and humanitarian point of view, the more of an interest they have in conflict reduction and stability. Investment in Gaza would require the relaxation of the embargo placed upon Gaza by Egypt and Israel, preventing building material and machinery from entering Gaza (so called “dual use materials”). Infrastructure and economic development will also require removing limitations on travel between Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank guaranteeing Gazans their freedom of livelihood.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that in the short run, such an initiative would stop rockets from being fired on villages and cities in Israel. The Hamas government and their terrorist partners in Gaza would not give up their goal to eradicate the State of Israel from the Middle East. Nor should we expect Palestinian residents of Gaza to give up striving for basic freedoms and an aspiration for nationhood.
We can choose to ignore the 2 million people trapped in Gaza stewing in their own poverty and lack of a future and continue to assume that military force will solve the problem. It would seem however that the past 18 years and the 7 major military conflicts between Israel and the rulers of Gaza suggest otherwise. Long-term investment into infrastructure, health, food security, education, employment, economic development, and the environment is in the Palestinian people’s best interest. It is also in the Israeli people’s best interest that Gazans see another face of Israel, begin to work with Israelis to improve their lives and perhaps accept that there is another way to achieve their aspirations besides the use of violence.
A Marshal Plan for Gaza could start as an initiative of the government coalition or from the opposition. It doesn’t matter because there is no major ideological disagreement between the opposition and the coalition when it comes to the long-term future of Gaza. Perhaps some of the energy we are now investing in our fight over the judicial reform/overhaul could be diverted to building a consensus on investment in Gaza, saving lives, reducing the possibility of conflict in the future and leading us towards a more peaceful and sustainable Middle East.