Saturday, 5 June 2010

Gaza on the back of an envelope

Caution be damned, here we go:

The argument for the blockade of Gaza is that if it is lifted, Hamas will be free to re-arm, and Iran will increase its influence in the area.

The arguments against the blockade are that it causes hardship to the population, prevents development of the legitimate economy, encourages the illegitimate smuggler economy, and fails to prevent Hamas re-arming.

I’d make one more argument against the blockade: it reinforces the primacy of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the lives of Gaza residents. This might seem a bit too obvious, but I read little or no comment on the possibility of changing Gaza’s relationship with the world to something broader than the dysfunctional Israel-Palestine binary relationship.

I think long term peace depends not just on improving the binary relationship, but on diminishing its importance relative to other relationships between Gaza residents and the wider world.

My back of an envelope solution is to put Gaza’s port under the control of a UN Port Authority mandated by the UN Security Council, with control over customs, security and economic development in the port area.

I fully trust this is a solution that will please no-one. The history of UN Oil For Food in Iraq comes to mind, as does UN failure in the Bosnian war. A UN regime at the port would no doubt be unable to stop smuggling and corruption, and would probably offer new possibilities in this area. It would be unable to stop Hamas re-arming. But these downsides are likely in any case.

Here are a couple more things a UN Port Authority would not do. It would not exert any control over Palestinian politics in Gaza outside of the port area. It would not prevent Israel or Hamas from waging war. Again, no change there.

So what could change? A UN Port Authority should have as part of its mandate the greatest possible development of economic and cultural connectivity between Gaza and the wider world. It should be an active investor in developing the port as an international shipping centre, not just a deposit point for aid. It should allow and encourage a legitimate economy to develop. It should facilitate the free flow of information between Gaza and the wider world. It should facilitate the free passage of people from and to Gaza.

A UN Port Authority could open the door for Gaza to step outside of the Israel-Palestine binary relationship.


Francis Sedgemore said...

I think the idea has legs, and that your argument for it is basically sound.

Such a plan could conceivably find favour with that bungling idiot Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister and his dysfunctional government are no doubt anxious to dig themselves out of the massive hole they have dug for themselves in Gaza, and do so without losing too much face.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Here is the snag in your plan:

"It would not exert any control over Palestinian politics in Gaza outside of the port area. It would not prevent Israel or Hamas from waging war. Again, no change there."

There will, then, continue to be occasions for battles and live fire between the Hamas and the IDF. A UN Port Authority will be right there and all Hamas has to do to create another problem for Israel is to launch a few qassams from the port or somewhere near-by. Israel will retaliate with fire, some UN personnel will get hurt and it's back to where we are today.

kellie said...

Hi Noga,
It's not possible to demand that Israel gives up its right to self defence, and the only way to put an end to Hamas military action is re-occupation, which no-one seems to be in favour of and which probably wouldn't work anyway.

So yes, there would most likely still be live fire, maybe even another Cast Lead or worse, and UN personnel would be at risk, as they are now.

But there would also be the possibility of economic development, with the consequence that a greater part of the population could then have an investment in an alternative future, and potentially be able to gain the means to protect that investment politically.

Central also would be greater cultural connectivity with the wider world, giving more alternatives to local propaganda outlets.

It's a proposal for incremental improvement, not a solution in itself.

jams o donnell said...

It#s definitely worth a try Kellie. If it can go some way to reducing the tensions then it is a good idea. It won't stop Hamas but perhaps it can undermine them in the long run

Bernard said...

Gaza is already very dependent on UNRWA but Hamas is not willing to work cooperatively with this agency. Would Hamas allow a UN port to exist?

The next problem within Gaza is the lack of basic human rights. How can a dialog happen when the people of Gaza are restricted to what Hamas wants to tell them? There is no debate allowed in Gaza allowed.

The more I think about it, the world needs to push for more democracy in all of the Middle East and a separation between church and state in all countries. This means no religious parties anywhere and no laws of a religious nature.

In the 70 years from 1870 to 1940 Germany invaded France three times. By 1953 the two countries had started down the path to the EU. If the Germans and French can coexist peacefully, the people of the Middle East should be able to as well.

When Saudi Arabia has elections and allows a synagogue to be built in Riyadh, that is when we may see real lasting peace in the Middle East

kellie said...

I have no idea whether Hamas would accept it. That might depend on who was proposing it, and whether Hamas thought they could gain more political advantage from embracing it as a victory or from rejecting it as not enough.

They might have some reason to accept. I've just been looking at a poll from April by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Centre, a Palestinian NGO. On voting intentions should there be an election, it gave a figure of 16% support for Hamas in Gaza compared with 42.7% for Fatah. 40.9% of respondents in Gaza said the West Bank government was doing a better job than the Gaza government, compared with 26% saying the reverse.

Anonymous said...

The issue, I would think, is this: would you prefer a neighbouring state officially bent on your imminent destruction be under the auspices of your own chosen security forces, or a committee of outside forces, chosen by other states, not all of which have your best interests in mind? If you perceived your very existence to depend on it, which would you choose?

Francis Sedgemore said...

Other commenters here have raised objections to Kellie's idea based on real or perceived feelings held by the parties to the conflict. That's fair enough, but what is being put forward is essentially a political proposal. For that reason it stands a chance of success, whatever those involved may think deep down.

kellie said...

Well, that line of thinking can only lead to reoccupation, as Gaza's current security forces obviously don't have Israel's best interests in mind. Is reoccupation politically acceptable or sustainable? If not, then you have to assess options that do not require 100% control: containment, deterrence, and working for political change.

kellie said...

Sorry, my last comment was in reply to Anon.

Terry Glavin said...

I don't know if it would hinder or help, either, but what I like about your idea, Kellie, is that it makes Gaza the world's problem, which it is. What's nutty about all this is that Israel is expected to defend itself against Hamas, alone. And when Israel takes measures the "international community" gets upset about, Israel's the bad guy. I like your idea because it's a way for Israel to say to her detractors: 'Okay, fine. You take care of it. Leave us out of it. We just want to be left alone. It's all yours."

kellie said...

Thanks Terry. Although I think as Noga indicates above, it could be very hard for Israel to say "it's all yours" if Hamas or some other party still decided to start something even after greater international involvement. We can see that looking at the current situation in South Lebanon where international involvement is present but inadequate.

I notice Blair yesterday was talking about something vaguely in this direction:

He said there was a case for more international involvement in patrolling the Gaza border crossings.

He said: "I think there is a strong case for the Palestinian Authority to be given a role in this, for the European Union - which used to have a role - and for the United Nations."

I still think there is a greater psychological advantage in putting that international effort into the port rather than land crossings. In the words of the old breakup line, it's time for them to start seeing other people.