Much of the discussion on Gaza of the last few weeks has been about what happened at the border fence at the hour when Hamas launched an attack to coincide with the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. The people of Gaza deserve better from the media, pundits, and diplomats weighing in on this topic. The reality is that Gaza’s Hamas “leaders” have destroyed Gaza and murdered the hope of Gazan’s. Concurrently, the geopolitics of “Do No Harm,” so well articulated by former US ambassador to Israel and my friend Dan Shapiro In his op-ed “Don’t Let This Gaza Crisis Go To Waste,” has only further harmed the people of Gaza. “Do No Harm” is bad policy and bad diplomacy and history has proven that from World War II to Bosnia and Syria. Moreover, “Do No Harm” diplomacy robbed global citizens in Europe and the United States of their precious tax dollars that Hamas stole, while diplomats did no harm to Hamas’ ability to pilfer public funds.
If desperate times call for desperate measures as Shapiro suggests, I suggest we focus on the people who are desperate, the people of Gaza. Hamas, safely ensconced in their seaside villas while sending others’ children off to die, is definitely not desperate.
“Do No Harm diplomacy,” as practiced by Obama, Carter, and the UN, focuses on doing no harm to the controlling regimes and their bad-actor sponsors at global institutions. Perpetuating those regimes does, however, cause much harm to the civilian population. If we want to succeed in Gaza, our approach must focus on the people and not the puppeteers. Moreover, we need to start thinking long term, instead of focusing on CNN split screens. Lastly, we need the countries with skin in the game to take a leading role.
The countries with the most skin in the Gaza game are Israel and Egypt. I propose that Israel and Egypt jointly take over the Gaza Strip militarily. Together, they would remove Hamas from power. Would there be casualties? Yes. Would there be more casualties in the short term than over the long term, I doubt it. Would CNN be ugly and Erdogan’s Turkey be indignant? Yes! Would Yemen, Iran and North Korea complain at the UN? Yes. Should we care? No! A righteous cause for the people of Gaza requires us to stare down the naysayers, the do-no-harmers. It requires bold action. Doing no harm has cost hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
This would also be a good test and, dare I say, a strengthening of the emerging Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-pan Arab cooperation.
Upon taking power and installing a joint military administrator, the United States, Germany and perhaps China, would be invited in to Gaza to initiate a modern day “Marshall Plan“ for the Gaza Strip. The Marshall Plan would have an end date of of 2050! You read that right. 2050. Long term thinking. Not noisy headlines. The civilian-led and government-financed construction and redevelopment project would include industrial zones on the Israeli-Egyptian Gaza border. It would include ports where security would be supervised jointly by Israel and Egypt, with American and German procedural oversight. Like its namesake, this Marshall Plan would also insist on Gulf states, Egypt, and Israel, to lower trade borders between all participants, including Gazans. That should cause a growth in regional economies. If the Europeans rushed to do business with an unrepentant Iran run by the mullahs, they should full out sprint to do business on a coastal set of towns whose security is run by Israel and Egypt, and where the internal technocracy is supervised by the USA and Germany, while opening Middle Eastern markets. I can even imagine a WeWork on the Gaza, Israel, Egypt border, with the stabilization provided by the Israeli and Egyptian armies.
One year after the military takeover and stabilization, Israel and Egypt would commit to an uninterrupted flow of electricity and goods. Further, they would commit to immediately providing high speed and robust telecom infrastructure to Gaza, so that ordinary Gazans can be connected to other parts of the world, develop 21st century skills and start working remotely. To further enhance regional cooperation, as both a way to build cooperation and as a bulwark to the Iran-Turkey-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, Saudi Arabia under Mohammad Bin Salman al Saud (MBS) would lead a coalition of Gulf States to build schools, hospitals and regional industrial zones, investing heavily in education and training of Gaza’s young population. And yes, a port, perhaps even a joint port a bit further south inside of Egypt’s sovereign borders. There would be less risk to building the port, because this is a 30-year plan, before full sovereignty would be turned over.
Each of the European countries and the US would commit to building schools in Gaza. I don’t mean the buildings, but rather a French school, an Anglican school, an American school, and even a Chinese school. Why is this critical? Because one of the mistakes made after Oslo was that education was turned over to an unrepentant Yasser Arafat, and, consequently, the world has been battling incitement in Palestinian schools ever since. And the Palestinians have gotten a sub-standard 21st century education for it. Lest someone suggest this is some form of cultural hegemony, I will simply point out that there is no reason there should be a French school in San Francisco and and American School in Herzliya, Israel, but not in Gaza. The Gazans deserve better.
Advocates of the “Do No Harm” schools of diplomacy would no doubt vociferously lambaste the regime change. Those same “do-no-harmers,” including President Obama, supported the Muslim brotherhood, and were angered when Sisi and the Egyptian military toppled Morsi and his brotherhood of terrorists. First, I would answer that regime change implies a legitimate regime, and not a mafia or gang of terrorist hoodlums at the helm in what Miriam Berger, writing for USA Today, rightly calls a “ wretched place.” It is also hard to call a regime “legitimate,” when it took elections 12 years ago and has held no elections since. Others, might call this an Israeli reconquest of Gaza. While I am not sure that an Israeli reconquest of Gaza would not be a good thing for Gaza’s actual citizens, that is not the intention here, and it is why Egypt’s military participation is critical.
Second, Western governments have a choice to make. Do they care about the people of Gaza or some notional idea about “self determination,” even if it makes citizens’ lives miserable and even if it empowered arch terrorist-thugs? The rush by UN Peace Envoy Nickolay Mladenov to praise Egypt and bash Israel, in his statement on the Rafah crossing opening, is indicative of everything that is wrong with the “Do No Harm” camp, and the reinforcing of regimes, even if they harm their own citizens. Said Mladenov, “Not only will Rafah’s extended opening contribute to de-escalating the explosive atmosphere in the Strip, it will also help ease the humanitarian burden on Palestinians in Gaza.”
It won’t. Because, as Shapiro points out, Hamas is in charge and they will abuse and usurp the benefits of the Rafah Crossing opening. It also won’t “de-escalate” the explosive situation, because much of what will come through the crossing will be used by Hamas to build weapons or tunnels to attack Israel and harm Gaza’s citizens. We know how that ends. It will actually further ensconce Hamas, deepening the crisis. It won’t do anything because nothing fundamental has changed. Contrast this with when Sisi defeated the “Do No Harmers” and the Muslim Brotherhood. As Caroline Glick correctly points out, “When the Egyptian military toppled Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013, (much to Obama’s distress and Israel’s relief), one-fourth of Egyptians were on the verge of starvation. Foreign currency reserves had dried up.” What’s happening now? Egypt’s economy is growing. In fact, it is the third fastest growing economy in the world now. Tourism in the country is up 30 percent, year over year. By doing harm to the Muslim Brotherhood, good things happened to Egypt and the regular Egyptians.
Why is this a 30-year plan? Because it takes at least one generation to change attitudes. I am certain that the average Gazan and average Israeli and Egyptian wants peace and even more so wants prosperity. Peace cannot come when standards of living diverge this much. Peace cannot come when the average Gazan remembers that his life was better when Israelis were his neighbors than when Hamas was his master. Peace cannot come when cement meant for housing is instead used for terror tunnels; kites meant for kids are instead used for dropping explosives on Israelis, burning kilometers worth of farm land; and ambulances are the preferred mode of terrorist transportation. Peace cannot come until Hamas’ reign of internal terror is removed from the hearts of Gazans and their fear is replaced by real hope. That takes decades.
Prosperity cannot come when Hamas blows up fuel depots in order to win a momentary sympathetic headline from CNN. Prosperity cannot take hold in the 21st century when kids have their schools used as shelter for terrorists and there is no societal stability, electricity, internet or education. Rebuilding, and the peace and prosperity that will ensue, take time and they take trust, and they take security for Israel’s southern citizens and Egypt’s government and population, as well as the citizens of Gaza. Only a plan that addresses all three of these issues can succeed in Gaza.
Military control by Egypt and Israel will solve the security issue and provide safety and stability to let rebuilding commence. Thirty years is enough time. Actually, it is the right amount of time to build trust and to educate the next generation of Gaza’s citizens, with an advanced 21st century education. It is also enough time so that the underminers will not be able to wait it out and hope the Gaza Strip falls back into terrorist hands. Therefore, it is also enough time to build the institutions of state that Gazans need. Before the State of Israel was declared, many of the institutions of state had already been built, from a nascent army to the health administration and even to the labor unions. None of those has been built in Gaza. None of these can be built by Hamas. And 30 years is enough time to show that joint investment, open trade borders and regional cooperation can grow the economy and improve the lives of Gazans.
We should not let this 15-year crisis go to waste. It is a long term crisis and you cannot microwave a solution. No UN praise of the opening of Rafah crossing or Kerem Shalom crossing will ameliorate the crisis. Speaking of the UN, they continue to perpetuate a falsehood in the eyes of Hamas and some of the Palestinians of Gaza. The continued existence of UNRWA (UN Relief Workers Organization), the United Nations Agency for Palestinian refugees, has not only allowed terrorists to terrorize from their midst and transport them but, and perhaps more importantly, keeps alive a notion that 700,000 Palestinians will move to homes inside of Israel. It won’t happen and is partly responsible for why Hamas feels emboldened to keep alive the narrative that there will be one Palestinian state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It is also why this solution must do harm to UNRWA. Building the Palestinian institutions of State in Gaza necessitates the immediate closure of UNRWA. That would also enable a two-state solution by undermining the notion of a return of 700,000 so-called refugees.
We should, we must address the root causes of what is happening in Gaza by doing harm. We must do harm to Hamas so that we can help the people of Gaza who deserve all of our help. We must do harm so the people of Israel’s southern communities and cities can sleep at night and walk to school safely by day. They cannot and should not live in shelters as Hamas fires on communities and kindergartens. We need to be bold. We need to try new solutions. We must think and act long term and invest longer term. Now, time is of the essence. As octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas goes through yet another medical treatment, the internecine war for Gaza, for the corruption and wealth brought by international aid and the next 50 years of the Palestinian people is about to get hotter. It is time to be bold, to try something radically different and long term. Disregard the diplomats. They have no skin in the game. They do harm by doing nothing to attack the core of the Gazan quandary.
Thank you to Yonatan Adiri, Elie Landau, Dan Senor and Matt Spence for their feedback on this piece.