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?

Tags: Gaza, economy, population growth

Views: 21

Replies to This Discussion

The solution is simple but probably very hard to achieve:
- A Palestinian representation that is willing and able to negotiate peace with Israel.
- A Palestinian government that is willing to promote the welfare of the Palestinians rather than a political or religious ideology.
- An Israeli government that is willing to withdraw the settlements in the West Bank or accept an equivalent solution that is acceptable to the Palestinians.
- A willingness on both sides to find a solution to the problem of Jerusalem.
- A willingness on the part of Arab states to treat Palestinians as Arabs and not as pariahs, which is the only way to resolve the issue of refugees.

Basically, my opinion is that the issue of Gaza is tied to the Palestinian issue, and as long as Hamas controls Gaza, I don't hold much hope.
Okay, and what happens to Gaza when you get all of that? You still have 1.5-2 million people in a tiny strip of land with no resources and no infrastructure. Do they remain the basket case for international contributions?
Gaza should not be considered separately from the rest of Palestine. Palestine needs to be a viable state, and when you look at the West Bank together with Gaza, that proposition makes a lot more sense. For this reason there has to be an easy way for Palestinians to circulate between Gaza and the West Bank, and there has to be a single governing entity. As long as Gaza is run a homicidal, anti-Semitic, and fanatical organization such as Hamas, I do not see that changing.
I agree that it should not be, but it is, and it has to do with a lot more than geography. THe two regions ave very different histories, very different economies, and very different demographics. Given the problems that I've mentioned above, it is likely that the West Bank will gain full independence long before Gaza.

The thing is that while Hamas is a problem in Gaza, there are very specific reasons why it is powerful there in the first place. Let me put it this way. I recently was involved in a small way in the opening of a movie theater in Jenin. It was a big event--the first to open in the West Bank in years and years. That would never have happened in Gaza because of the religious and political environment.

You're gut reaction will probably be that it is because Gaza is run by Hamas and Jenin isn't. That would be wrong. In fact, the mayor of Jenin, Hadem Rida, is a member of Hamas but was supportive of the cinema (with certain token restrictions). In 2009, a youth orchestra from the Jenin refugee camp traveled to Holon Israel to play a concert for Holocaust survivors (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/world/middleeast/30mideast.html?_r=1). Yeah, it was condemned, but the fact is that they did it. Sometimes, the leaders have to talk the talk, even if they don't walk the walk.

Could that happen in Gaza? I actually have solid reasons to think it could, but it would be much more difficult. Then again, I don't see all of Hamas as homicidal, anti-Semitic, and fanatical. Exploitative of the local population? Yes, but that is very different.

So, how do you resolve Gaza's real problems? How do you create an environment that is not conducive to Hamas?
Unfortunately, I don't have any solutions I can suggest at the moment, but I want to comment on the thoughtfulness of your comments. If everyone (on all sides) involved in this debate put so much thought before mouthing off, things would not be so dire.
Okay, then I will give you some solutions. Note that some of these are radical, however, you gotta start somewhere. The plan involved four countries (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt) and several UN organizations.

1. Israel immediately lifts the embargo of goods to Gaza and allows the free flow of goods. People will be allowed to enter Israel for humanitarian purposes, to be determined by a committee set up by the World Health Organization and other relevant UN parties for a period of ten years, after which the procedures will be reviewed by the parties and adjusted accordingly.

2. Gaza's airport is rebuilt and reopened for the free flow of goods and people.

3. Gaza's port is constructed for the free flow of goods and people.

4. Gaza's maritime boundary is extended to 100 km for a period of ten years and Gazans will be provided with exclusive fishing rights there.

5. International funding is found to support the Med-Dead Canal project, to provide a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea. This would revive the Dead Sea, which is shrinking as a result of the diversion of water for agriculture (this would require Jordanian agreement). The canal would also provide hydroelectric power as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

6. The canal would begin just south of Gaza, cut through the Israeli lowlands, and enter the West Bank in the area around Yatta-Dura (southern Judean Hills), running across the Judean Desert into the Dead Sea. IN other words, it will run east with a slightly northern slant.

7. A highway will be built alongside the canal.

8. The canal and highway will be extra-territorial and patrolled by an international force for a period of ten years from the completion of construction. The road will connect Gaza with the West Bank.

9. Funding for the canal will be provided by international organizations. Gazans working on the canal will receive salaries and benefits equivalent to those of their Israeli peers. No less than one-third of the work force will be Palestinian at any given point and in any given position. Payment for all workers will come from international funding.

10. In Central Gaza a resort area will be developed adjacent to the Deir el-Balah refugee camp. It will include luxury hotels, a casino, bars, night clubs, spas, and a marina. A top class, tax free shopping and entertainment district will be built in Deir al-Balah/Khan Yunis for the exclusive use of guests of the resort area.

11. Access to the resort area will be through Gaza's newly refurbished airport. At least half of the resort area will cater specifically to wealthy Arabs from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, who will benefit from direct flights there. A smaller section will be set aside for general tourism.

12. Egypt will cede territories along the coast to Gaza, particularly around the Jewish bloc of settlements dismantled in 1982 (Yamit, Sadot, etc.). This area will be redeveloped for extensive desert agriculture.

13. Egypt will also cede a strip of land along the Israeli border up to the area of Auja, where Israel will cede a part of the Negev desert for Palestinian development. An industrial town will be established there to reduce the strain of overpopulation in Gaza.The strip along the Israeli border will serve as a buffer between Israel and Egypt and be accessible to the armies of neither. The territory will contain solar power farms, with excess power sold to Israel.

14. Under the terms of this agreement, the city of Rafah will be reunified.

There you go. Some simple ideas off the top of my head.
I am impressed. I wish that this type of ideas made it into the news rather than the anti-Semitic nonsense that some so-called pro-Palestinian groups deliver on pointless events such as "Apartheid Week".

I don't know enough to say whether all these suggestions would work, but they sound like a great start for a serious discussion. You got my vote.


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