Gaza needs a rehabilitation program - here's...

Gaza needs a rehabilitation program - here's the plan

By Yossi Beilin, i24

04.08.14
 
After the current Israel-Hamas war in Gaza concludes, a new situation will emerge in the bloodied strip. The donating countries will mobilize to rebuild the ruins, and there may be a serious attempt to take care of the severe poverty and despairing unemployment which adds fuel to the radicalization fire. This has great potential. The Gaza Strip has massive agricultural production, but it cannot export to Israel because Israel, for some reason, does not permit it. Little investment is needed here, providing the option to export goods to Israel will make life much easier and better for the many farmers in Gaza.
 
Yossi Beilin
 
A second issue is tourism. Gaza’s beach tourism potential is large and untapped, especially since Hamas took over the Strip in 2007, placing restrictions on separate bathing for women and men, drinking alcohol, etc. Removing those restrictions could in quick fashion enable the development of this important, profitable industry, as distant as it may seem today, seeing the destruction and the shortage of water and electricity.
 
But the truly big potential is the gas field off the Gaza shore. So far, Israel has prevented the development of the claim, fearing that its income will reach Hamas and fund its despicable goals. If a system that will prevent such a scenario would exist (with the help of Egypt, of course, a major anchor to limit Hamas’ steps after the end of the war) it will be possible to begin utilizing the gas within three years, providing a solution both to skyrocketing gas prices and operation of desalination plants. Besides, the Palestinian Authority would enjoy hundreds of millions of tax dollars every year. This is a decision of great importance, that may change the face of the Strip, preventing the necessity of continuing to live off handouts for many years to come. All that can be attained if -- once the fighting is over -- an agreement is reached whereby a Palestinian unity government, which has no Hamas members even if it has its support, will take the reins in Gaza, assuring -- with Egypt's help -- that the income received will not end up in other pockets.
 
A permanent solution, however, cannot be just an economic one. It will be necessary to return to the negotiations table, and to talk with the PLO (and if Hamas accepts the terms of the Quartet on the Middle East, and will be a part of the PLO -- there will be no reason to boycott it) about a gradual agreement to form a Palestinian state in temporary borders, towards a permanent agreement to be discussed by the two governments. But the important political decision to place the responsibility to rebuild Gaza on the Palestinian unity government is not enough. It is a gigantic economic project, with political consequences, and the risk is that once again international money will come in and find itself in the wrong places and go to waste, so that Gaza in 10 years will look just like Gaza today -- only much more crowded. To prevent this it will be necessary to condition the aid on somebody who could take on this difficult challenge and run the project. Without a “Czar” to rebuild Gaza, attempting to rebuild it with money alone will be a waste.
 
The first person I can think of is Dr. Salam Fayyad. The most successful Palestinian prime minister, and a finance minister who cleaned out some of the corruption and prepared the “future state” plan, would be the ideal candidate to perform such a role. He is greatly respected and trusted in economic and political circles in the world, but suffers from the “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown” syndrome, and it is not certain that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will offer him such a role. I believe it is important that potential donors demand his appointment, or that of anyone else they professionally respect, to lead the Gaza rehabilitation process. The Strip has an an economic potential that could before long return the investors their money. But to achieve that, a solid project manager is necessary.
 
Yossi Beilin is president of the business consulting firm Beilink. In the past he served as a minister in three Israeli governments and as a Member of Knesset for Labor and Meretz. He was one of the pioneers of the Oslo Accords, the Geneva Initiative and Birthright.