Large-Scale Economic Projects Won’t Save Gaza

October 4, 2018 | Mohammed Samhouri
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For some time, Israeli and foreign analysts have suggested various schemes to ameliorate the Gaza Strip’s deteriorating economic situation, including, for instance, the construction of an offshore port that could be used for exports and imports without compromising Israel’s ability to keep the Hamas government from importing arms. Mohammed Samhouri, drawing on his own experience as a leading Palestinian economic adviser in the wake of the 2005 Israeli withdrawal, doubts such plans can work:

[The evacuation of] Gaza—which took all [parties] by surprise when first announced in December 2003 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon—was largely motivated by Israel’s own strategic interests [and] was all but inevitable: a point often neglected in writings on the subject. Unlike the occupation of the West Bank, the prospect of a long-term Israeli occupation of Gaza had never existed or made strategic sense. Neither the geography nor the demography of the place would have allowed for a prolonged Israeli presence. . . . It was only a matter of time.

By contrast, Hamas presented the disengagement as a victory that proved the effectiveness of its armed resistance. . . . In the rush to capitalize on its self-proclaimed victory, . . . Hamas competed against the secular Fatah party in the Palestinian legislative elections of January 2006, which—contrary to predictions—it ultimately won. And so, as the last Israeli soldier left Gaza in the early morning hours of September 12, 2005, Gaza was in effect sealed and delivered to Hamas. . . .

The disengagement plan has failed to alter Gaza’s prolonged misfortune. One can list many reasons for this outcome. But one lesson is clear: technical solutions to Gaza’s complex problems, absent a supportive political and security setting, are not likely to work. . . . Yet this lesson and its policy implications don’t seem to be well understood today. For instance, despite the growing realization that deterioration in Gaza’s living conditions is fast approaching a breaking point, and may have even passed it, the proposed solutions to the crisis, whether from the Israeli military establishment or from the current U.S. administration, are all in the form of a list of [large-scale economic and infrastructure] projects to save Gaza’s collapsing economy.

Vital as such undertaking may be for addressing Gaza’s mounting socioeconomic difficulties and the chronic shortages in its basic public services, these projects . . . can only be implemented if Gaza’s political and security situation is stabilized first.

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