Home | About | Documents | Previous |Search |
Email this page  Print this page  facebookTwitter Bookmark and Share


Weakening the chances for peace

Ephraim Sneh

Applying the term "blockade" to the Gaza Strip involves not a little hypocrisy. It ignores both the nature of the regime there and what that regime has done in Gaza in its four years in power.

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
Prior to June 2007, there was no "blockade" of Gaza. I served then as Israel's deputy minister of defense with responsibility for links with the Strip. Even though Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh served as Palestinian prime minister, around 750 trucks loaded with a variety of goods entered and departed Gaza every day. It was sufficient that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Presidential Guard was responsible for the border crossings with Israel. Agricultural exports from Gaza rose dramatically during this period.

Even before June 2007, Hamas would attack and try to blow up the commercial border crossings. But it was Hamas' brutal coup d'etat in Gaza that led to the isolation of the Strip. When an organization that advocates the ideology of jihad and applies that ideology by launching thousands of rockets and missiles against Israel's civilian population controls the territory of the Strip, it cannot expect to enjoy Scandinavian-style freedom of movement.

Hamas' rule in Gaza is internally brutal and oppressive no less than it is externally aggressive. Political opposition, in this case Fateh, is forbidden, and harsh Islamist codes are imposed on the population. It's no surprise that most of the leaders of Gazan Fateh are in Ramallah with their families.

The significance of Egypt's opening of the Rafah border crossing is symbolic and political. First and foremost, it signals Egyptian legitimization of Hamas' rule in Gaza. Cairo's decision to open the crossing reflects the growing influence of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement in post-Mubarak Egypt. It is an expression of the quiet alliance that has been formed between the Brotherhood and Egypt's military rulers with the aim of weakening and marginalizing the secular liberal opposition. The opening of the Rafah crossing, even if few Gazan residents actually cross, reduces pressures within the isolated Gazan population. The public credit is claimed by the two sister organizations: Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The economic significance of the Rafah opening is negligible. It is mainly linked to the money earned by Gazans working in the Gulf who can now visit their families with up to $10,000 worth of the fruits of their labors, a bit of which they'll spend in Egypt en route. In economic terms, the Rafah crossing is a gate linking a little basket case to a large basket case. A link between an economy in which the per capita GDP is about $1,000 and one where it is around $3,000 cannot be expected to bring prosperity to the former.

Gaza's basic economic problem, with its 1.5 million residents, is its detachment from the Israeli economy. Israel is Gaza's natural economic neighbor--even if many in both Israel and Palestine don't like to hear it. A crate of Gazan strawberries sold in Tel Aviv brings the Gazan farmer a price several times higher than in Port Said. The same goes for industrial products. But commerce with Israel, where the per capita GDP is close to $30,000, is not just a Palestinian interest. The benefits of trade go both ways. The Israeli economy cannot forego a market of 1.5 million consumers; it has an interest in increasing their buying power. When, from time to time, the commercial passages to Gaza were closed for security reasons, it was the Israeli farmers and suppliers of raw materials who asked to reopen them.

Not only commerce creates an unbreakable link between Israel and Gaza. There is a mutual interdependence concerning the environment, public health, water and energy. For example, there is no more efficient way to exploit Gaza's offshore natural gas reserves, worth some five billion dollars, than through joint development with Israeli gas companies. Currently, this resource remains under the Mediterranean Sea, unexploited.

The Gaza Strip has a large economic potential in labor-intensive and knowledge-based industry, tourism, transportation and energy. This potential can only be realized through a two-state peace agreement. Hamas, like the Israeli political right, is the irreconcilable enemy of such an agreement. Every act that strengthens Hamas weakens the chances for peace. That is how we must judge the opening, however limited, of the Rafah crossing.-Published 6/6/2011 © bitterlemons.org

Ephraim Sneh, a retired IDF general, served in Israeli governments as minister of health, minister of transportation and deputy minister of defense. He is currently chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.
Notice Board