I'm going to take a rather contrary opinion here and say that the worst possible thing for Gaza right now is to argue that the solution to its problems would be an Israeli withdrawal. Let me be clear. I fully support a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and believe that it is inevitable. However, my concern is not that it happens but rather, what happens after Israel withdraws from Gaza. The question really is, where do you see Gaza one year after an Israeli withdrawal?
I'm going to predicate this with some basic facts, all of which are indisputable.
1. Gaza has an area of about 140 sq. miles and a population of 1.5 million. That means the density in Gaza is 10,665 per square mile (CIA Fact Book). Only five territories in the world have a greater density: Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Gibraltar. Furthermore, Gaza has one of the highest birthrates in the world (7.9 children per woman, three times the world average), with the population slated to double in just 21 years (Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7891434.stm
for 2007 figures, and http://www.wrmea.com/backissues/0194/9401035.htm
for fertility rates).
2. Apart from Gaza, all of the places listed above are, essentially, city states, with urban economies. Gaza is an exception. Its economy is largely agricultural (28 percent of the population is rural, compared to 0 in the other places), with its two main exports being citrus fruits and olives, grown by about 35,000 small farmers. On the other hand, Gaza is not self-sustaining in terms of food, and most of its food has to be imported, including flour, meat, eggs, dairy, fruits and vegetables, etc. There are some small industries, including textiles, but that is mainly for local use, and they depend on imported cotton. There is no industrial base, and no there are no natural resources.
3. Most water in Gaza is used for agriculture, and must be imported. The dearth of water is causing salinization of the soil, impacting the quality of the crops. For the record, citrus (the main export) is extremely vulnerable to salinization, and the quality of the crop has declined rapidly in recent years (see, for instance, http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/web/guest/country/home/tags/gaza%...
but note that much of the discussion is about the West Bank).
4. Some people have suggested that tourism would be a great boon to Gaza's economy. I have been to the local beaches and they are some of the finest in the Mediterranean. Club Med, anyone? On the other hand, Hamas, which runs Gaza, is not a big fan of bikini-clad women cavorting with Speedo-clad men (okay, no one likes Speedo-clad men) at a poolside bar, sipping mai tais.
5. One advantage Gaza has is a relatively high literacy rate of 92.4 (though there is a gender disparity of 96.7 for men and 88 for women, though women average 14 years in school, compared to 13 for men). By comparison, Mexico's literacy rate for men and women is 86.1. On the other hand, Gaza's high literacy is due largely to the prevalence of religious schools, which teach the Qur'an and not much else.
6. Unemployment is just over 40 percent. 12 percent of the employed work in agriculture and 5 percent in industry. The rest of the economy is service-based. Note also that all electricity must be imported.
7. There was an airport (which was built on agricultural land), but it was shut down. The port that was under construction was bombed.
8. So how did Gaza survive until now? Well, in the past, most people worked in Israel as day laborers, however, this was stopped as a result of increasing terrorism. I would go so far as to say that one of the goals of that terrorism was to sabotage Gaza's economic reliance on Israel. This allowed Hamas to raise its profile as a service provider through its extensive network of charities (health, welfare, education, etc.--you vote for the people who give you food). There is, however, an advantage to this. Maintaining Gaza as a source of cheap labor is essentially the same as creating a Bantustan, where Israel benefits from the work but has no ultimate responsibility for the workers. This only serves to entrench economic disparity.
9. Most of the existing infrastructure has been destroyed, and a long embargo on cement has made it impossible to repair homes, public buildings, etc.
So, my question is, what happens when Israel withdraws? What next? How does Gaza become sustainable? Macao and Hong Kong were gateways to China and now serve as major banking centers. Monaco is a gambling and tourism capital. Singapore and Gibraltar both sit astride major shipping lanes. Gaza is a backwater. Even if Israel withdraws completely and opens its borders, economic conditions coupled with a rapidly growing population will only create conditions conducive to even more violence.
If you are really for Gaza, I would worry less about condemning Israel and more about how to convert this tiny strip of land into a viable entity, before the population hits 2 million (which should happen by 2020), with no jobs, no food, no resources, and no hope. Solutions anyone?