To Cure Gaza’s Ills, Restore Its Connection to Africa

April 8, 2019 | Gershon Hacohen
About the author: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen served in the IDF for 42 years, commanding troops in battle on the Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian fronts. Today he directs many of the IDF’s war-simulation exercises.

Given the near-constant violence that has emanated from the Gaza Strip since Hamas’s takeover, some in Israel favor returning the area to the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). But, argues Gershon Hacohen, doing so would only replicate the problems found on the West Bank. He suggests a dramatically different approach to solving the Strip’s economic woes:

The current tendency is to see the Gaza problem as originating in the refugee population that burgeoned there after the 1948 War of Independence. It would make more sense, though, to go back a few steps further and consider the city’s . . . geographic location as an intermediate station on the ancient highway between Asia and Africa [and] between Mesopotamia and Egypt. . . . It was the establishment of the state of Israel that blocked this ancient route, severed Egypt from the Arab east (mashriq), and turned Gaza into a cul-de-sac at the edge of Egyptian territory.

The March 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty considerably exacerbated the Gaza problem. In a shrewd move, President Anwar Sadat shifted the Gaza problem exclusively to Israel’s purview. After the Israeli town of Yamit and neighboring villages had been razed and the Sinai in its entirety had been restored to Egyptian sovereignty all the way to the 1906 international border, Gaza could no longer develop westward into the potential open space between [the border city of] Rafah and [the nearest Egyptian city], el-Arish. . . .

Is it desirable for Israel to conquer Gaza and reimpose its rule, as in pre-Oslo days? If it is not, then Hamas’s military defeat requires an answer to the question of who should be given control of the Strip. Should Israel sacrifice its sons to serve Gaza on a silver platter to [the PA president] Mahmoud Abbas? It was, after all, Yasir Arafat, Abbas’s predecessor as PLO leader, who transformed Gaza into an ineradicable terrorist hotbed in flagrant violation of the Oslo Accords that he had signed. . . .

The center of gravity for dealing with the Palestinian problem should instead be shifted from Ramallah to Gaza, with the aim of creating economic and infrastructure linkages between Gaza and its historic hinterland—the Sinai Peninsula.

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