Pillar of defense – what now?

Prosperity can breed peace:   robust industrial, commercial and even cultural relationships between the Palestinians and Israelis can lead to durable peace, mutual acceptance and understanding. It has been achieved before and can be achieved again if the politicians prioritize the true interests of the people above narrow political ambitions and slogans.

 The truce allows mothers in Israel and Gaza to breathe a cautious sigh of relief in the hope they can raise their children without fear of rocket fire from either side. Despite the UN resolution conferring non-member status on the Palestinians or because of it, , much serious work must be done urgently to convert the fragile respite into a lasting peace and an examination of recent history is useful in pointing to he mutual cooperation between the parties that existed in the past and that can be achieved in the future, with substantial benefits to all concerned.

 While many reporters and opinion makers are too young to recall conditions before and immediately after the six day war, it is important to take these circumstances into account as a guide to what can be done in a future two state solution. Prof Ephraim Karsh has shown authoritatively that the Israeli occupation led to dramatic improvements in general well being, placing the population of the territories ahead of most of their Arab neighbors. Close to 2,000 industrial plants, employing almost half of the work force, were established in the territories under Israeli rule. During the 1970s, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world; ahead of such “wonders” as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea, and substantially ahead of Israel itself.

 Until the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 Palestinian workers and business people from the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) freely entered Israel without interference. 146,000 Palestinians were working in Israe land in the settlements. In 1999 labor income from Israel accounted for about 20% of Palestinian GDP.

 Believe it or not, Israel believes that a high standard of living for the Palestinians is important for the achievement of good neighborly relations. Click here for more .

 In line with this outlook many projects were in the pipeline for joint ventures fostering cooperation between Jews and Arabs and creating employment. Unfortunately very little is known, even by experts on Palestine, about the many cooperative efforts that existed at that time and about the ambitious plans for expansion that should be rekindled.

 Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) cooperated in creating employment opportunities along the “seam-line” between Israel and the territories and in areas under the jurisdiction of the PA. A very successful industrial zone was created at Erez, employing about 5,000 workers in some 200 businesses half of which were Palestinian-owned. This was part of a larger Gaza Industrial Estate (GIE), slated to provide up to 50,000 jobs.  In addition a joint industrial zone was planned south of Tulkarm intended to provide jobs for more than 5,000 Palestinians. Additional areas were planned for Jenin and the Kerem Shalom area near Rafah in Gaza.

 But all these positive efforts were tragically thwarted when the GIE zone became the target of deadly Palestinian attacks leading to closure of the enterprises.


The Erez Industrial Park                                                          Photos by courtesy of www.gushkatif.net

   And then came PM Ariel Sharon’s plan in 2004 for disengagement from Gaza which stated clearly that the State of Israel was committed to the peace process supporting the efforts of the USA, alongside the international community, to promote the improvement of the economy and welfare of the Palestinian residents. Moreover it was intended that the move would enable territorial contiguity for Palestinians in the Northern Samaria area.

 The evacuation of all Israelis from the Gaza Strip was completed in 2005, involving displacement of approximately 8000 civilians from 21 Israeli communities.

 Despite the strong objections of the evacuees and their supporters, there were high expectations that indeed a new era of cooperation had dawned between Israel and Palestinians.

 Among the activities of the Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip was the operation of high-tech greenhouses that provided employment for thousands of Palestinians and produced fruits and vegetables for a profitable export trade. American Jewish donors bought more than 3,000 of these greenhouses from Israeli settlers inGazafor $14 million and transferred them as a gift to the Palestinian Authority.

 Tragically, in addition to the forced closing of the Erez Industrial project this additional golden opportunity for a profitable industry was lost. Arab journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh described how Gazan gunmen wantonly destroyed thousands of greenhouses and other projects left behind by the Jewish settlers; projects that could have provided income for over 4,500 families


One of the destroyed greenhouses
Photo by courtesy of http://www.zionism-israel.com/ezine/gaza_green.htm

Any plans to convert the current truce to a lasting coexistence agreement with two states for two peoples must acknowledge that the WBG cannot survive without trading with the Israeli economy. But one of the main hurdles to overcome is how to achieve this while the Hamas charter declares there is absolutely no room for peaceful negotiation. Article 13 of the Hamas Charter unambiguously declares:

“Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

 And how does one deal with the unrealistic obsessive phobia expressed in the Charter about Freemasons, Rotary clubs, Lions and similar organizations, promising that the day Islam is in control, these organizations will be obliterated? These groups are accused by Hamas of everything from control of the world media, starting the French Revolution, the Communist revolution, World War I and even forming the League of Nations. They are alleged to have been behind World War II, and instigating replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council. Click here for an English translation of the Hamas charter.  Every person attempting to understand and influence the Mid-East conflict must read it.

 Despite the obstacles it is essential thatIsrael, the PA and even Hamas must endeavor to come to terms in the interests of the ordinary Palestinian and Israeli people. Towards this end, the peace brokers should be encouraged by the examples of positive pre-intifada events described above, to believe that cooperation rather than confrontation is achievable and would undoubtedly be mutually beneficial.

About the Author
Maurice Ostroff is a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a world-wide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel His web site is at www.maurice-ostroff.org