… “Arafat was sober, businesslike, almost in awe of the scale of the problems that he faces in turning this impoverished strip of land into the paradise that many of his people expect will come from self-rule.” — Los Angeles Times, On Yasser Arafat’s return to Gaza following the signing of the Oslo Accords, July 2, 1994
“We predicted some years ago that Gaza would fast become unlivable on a host of indicators and that deadline is actually approaching even faster than we predicted — from health access, to energy to water.” — Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Development Coordination, The Times of Israel, July 11, 2017
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” — An aphorism attributed to Albert Einstein
More than a quarter-century has passed since Israel first permitted the arch-terrorist, Yasser Arafat, access to the Gaza Strip in July 1994. He entered the coastal enclave in jubilant triumph to the cheers of thousands, who lined the streets and squares to welcome him. The mood of euphoria reflected the naive optimism of the time, which, as some more sober souls warned, soon proved tragically unfounded.
Of course, it was a euphoria (read “myopia”) that wasn’t confined to the Gazan side of the border. For example, the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, widely considered the driving force behind the Oslo Process, was quoted at the time as expressing satisfaction with Arafat’s performance as a peace partner. According to Peres: “The test is in the doing and as things have been done until now, things are going beautifully. … Until now it must be said that of all the Palestinian leaders, Arafat … delivered the goods.”
Sadly, but not entirely unexpectedly—at least, for those who opposed the Oslo process—life for the average Gazan has been in a steep downward spiral, particularly after the 2005 unilateral evacuation of the Strip by Israel.
In many ways, Gaza has become the ultimate indictment of the two-state, land-for-peace prescription. After all, after more than two-and-half decades, despite almost unanimous international support and massive financial aid, the attempt to foist self-governance on Gaza has failed dismally. When it became clear that there was little chance of a bilateral negotiated settlement, Israel embarked on a rash, ill-considered unilateral evacuation, razing all trace of Jewish presence except for the synagogues, which the Gazan mobs swiftly desecrated and destroyed.
Rather than turn their energies towards developing their society and economy, the Gazans focused on devoting their resources and efforts to enhancing their abilities for aggression against Israel—with missiles and rockets, terror tunnels and fortifications.
This massive diversion of resources from civilian development to mustering military might has had a severe effect on the Gazan man-in-the-street. I have written in some detail elsewhere on the grim conditions prevailing in Gaza (see, for example, here, here, here and here).
Accordingly, it will suffice here to point out that the gross misgovernment of Gaza has left the general population awash in untreated sewage flows, with well over 90 percent of the water supply unfit for drinking, electrical power available for only a few hours a day (despite Qatari dollars, now rumored to be drastically cut back), and unemployment rates soaring to anything between 40 percent to 60 percent, depending on the source cited or the sector involved.
The futility of international aid
The magnitude of this failure can be gauged from a detailed report by the Congressional Research Service titled “U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians”: “Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed more than $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal security assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.”
The report goes on to stipulate the intended objectives of this generous aid: “Successive Administrations have requested aid for the Palestinians in apparent support of at least three major U.S. policy priorities of interest to Congress:
• Promoting the prevention or mitigation of terrorism against Israel from … Hamas and other militant organizations;
• Fostering stability, prosperity, and self-governance … that may incline Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and a “two-state solution.”
• Meeting humanitarian needs.”
Seen against the grim realities that now prevail and have prevailed unabated for decades, this aid has failed miserably in achieving any, and all, of its declared goals.
The motivation for terror attacks against Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian-Arab terror organizations has been neither prevented nor mitigated. Indeed, with Hamas still actively engaged in enhancing its offensive capacities and inciting violence on the frontier fence, there are few illusions in Israel that a further round of fighting is merely a question of “when,” not “if.”
Stability, prosperity and effective self-government have not gotten off the ground. Moreover, humanitarian needs have not been met in any meaningful manner. If anything, the opposite seems true. With the power shortages crippling the delivery of water supplies and sewage treatment, and undermining the regular operation of sanitation services, the entire civilian infrastructure system seems teetering on the cusp of collapse.
As the living conditions in Gaza deteriorate for all except a privileged few, an increasing number of reports warn that the entire Strip will become unfit for human habitation in the foreseeable future (see, for example, here, here, here and here).
Indeed, it should be pointed out that this dismal situation has been reached despite the fact that Israel is providing the hostile Gazans, whose leaders called on them to rip out the hearts of the Israelis and to eat their livers, with significant amounts of power and water—with the latter being constrained more by Gaza’s poorly maintained infrastructure rather than by any limits on Israeli largesse.
What fate Gaza?
This, of course, should concentrate minds on what fate awaits Gaza and Gazans in 15 to 20 years’ time.
Without getting embroiled in the polemics of what the precise population of Gaza is, in terms of broad approximations, most official estimates put the current population at around 1.85 million. With an estimated rate of growth a little less than 3 percent, the projected population will soon top 2 million. Whatever the real accuracy of these figures, the picture they paint is a dire one—the dwindling of already insufficient life-sustaining resources and a rapid growth of the population consuming them.
So the question that must be addressed is: What can be done to avert the human catastrophe that almost inevitably will befall the hapless entity and its people?
This is no trivial matter since the bilateral Oslowian negations have failed; the unilateral disengagement has only exacerbated the situation; generous financial aid has not helped avert the impending disaster and the attempt to “manage the conflict,” rather than resolve it, has seen the enmity in Gaza evolve from being a terrorist nuisance to a strategic threat of dimensions unimagined when Israel abandoned it in 2005.
Of course, many of Israel’s detractors will attempt to lay the blame for this bleak situation on the “Occupation” and the “Siege.” But this is merely a flimsy pretext that is sounding increasingly hollow and must be rejected for at least three reasons.
Firstly, much of the hardship is created by intra-Palestinian in-fighting between Ramallah-based Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas.
Secondly, in large part, the crisis is a result of intra-Palestinian decisions regarding resource allocation and taxation. Several reports indicate that Hamas has deprived Gaza’s water production and sewage plants of electricity, opting to use the available power for other purposes, such as Gaza’s luxury hotels, which cater to the enclave’s wafer-thin affluent class. Moreover, two years after “Operation Protective Edge,” high-level Israeli sources revealed that Hamas was seizing up to 95 percent of the imported cement supplies entering Gaza for its own purposes, such as construction of terror tunnels.
Thirdly, the quarantine of Gaza is the consequence, not the cause, of Arab violence against the Jewish state. Accordingly, demands to remove it are inherently anti-Semitic since they imply Jews should die meekly and give their Judeocidal enemies unfettered access to their compliant victims.
Widespread desire to emigrate
This brings us back to the thorny question of Gaza’s future.
In light of the repeated failure of all that has been tried, there seems little point in persisting with similar measures unless, of course, one believes that at some unspecified time, the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza will, for some unspecified reason and by some unspecified process, morph into something they have not been for more than 100 years.
But what if such an unlikely metamorphosis fails to materialize? What then?
In light of the evermore harrowing living conditions and inclement prospects for the future, it’s hardly surprising to learn that accumulating evidence shows more and more Gazans desire to leave the Strip and seek their futures elsewhere. It is this emerging propensity that holds the clue to arriving at the only conceivable policy that can allow the Gazan public to extricate itself from its increasingly daunting predicament.
In this regard, I have been repeatedly excoriated for suggesting that the only durable non-kinetic solution for Gaza that is consistent with Israel’s survival as the nation-state of the Jewish people is incentivized emigration to third-party countries (not forcible expulsion).
Such opposition is puzzling since my proposal would appear to be consistent with the desire of a large section of the Gazan population. After all, polls conducted by a leading Palestinian institute consistently show that almost half (and occasionally more) of Gazans wish to emigrate even without there being any tangible economic incentives offered.
Gaza: What would Albert Einstein say?
The current situation in Gaza—and the accompanying misery—are the direct result of the misguided attempt to foist statehood on the Palestinian Arabs.
It was Albert Einstein who reportedly remarked that one can not solve a problem with the level of thinking that created it. The problem of Gaza was, irrefutably, created by the belief that land could be transferred to the Palestinian Arabs to provide them a viable opportunity for self-governance. Accordingly, the problem of Gaza cannot be solved by persisting with ideas that created it—i.e., persisting with a plan to provide the Palestinian Arabs with land for self-governance.
This concept must therefore be abandoned for any lasting solution to be possible.
Clearly then, persisting with humanitarian aid, as in the past, will yield essentially similar results to those of the past. Any improvements in the humanitarian conditions will be at best marginal, probably imperceptible.
The only real way to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is to offer the Gazans what they really want: a better life elsewhere, out of harm’s way, free from the clutches of the cruel, corrupt cliques who have led them from disaster to disaster for decades.
Thus, rather than pouring millions into inoperative desalination plants and rusting sewage-treatment works, the aid should be in the form of generous individual relocation grants to allow non-belligerent Gazans to seek a safer, more secure future elsewhere, outside the “circle of violence” that inevitably awaits them if they stay.
Indeed, if there is any other way that has not been tried before and failed to address the predicament in Gaza—i.e., an increasing population reliant on decreasing resources—I would be more than intrigued to learn of it.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
Be a part of our community
JNS serves as the central hub for a thriving community of readers who appreciate the invaluable context our coverage offers on Israel and their Jewish world.
Please join our community and help support our unique brand of Jewish journalism that makes sense.