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Israel minister swims against tide with Gaza island plan

31 March 2017

 TEL AVIV: An Israeli minister has gone against the tide in proposing a way he says would alleviate conditions in the Gaza Strip while maintaining his country’s security control — build an island nearby. The unusual proposal has gained backing among some in the Israeli security establishment, but he is a long way from convincing everyone. Those concerned with Palestinian rights say it would do little to address the root of the problem and question whether it would further separate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank — making a future contiguous Palestinian state even more difficult to achieve. 

Israeli Intelligence and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz argues that it is feasible and the best option for now, with the island’s long-term status to be negotiated. Katz has pushed the idea for several years, but has recently redoubled efforts to spread the word. It would see an artificial island built in the Mediterranean Sea some 5 km off the coast of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave under a decade-long Israeli blockade. The island would be tiny at some 534 hectares, only a fraction of the size of Malta, for example. It would include infrastructure to provide the Gaza Strip with essential services it currently lacks, including desalination facilities for clean water and an electricity plant. There would also be a freight harbor and an area for container storage, which Katz says will help open the Gazan economy to the outside world. 

A bridge would connect it to Gaza, with one portion acting as a drawbridge. An airport could be considered at a later stage. The cost would be some $5 billion — but Katz argues it could be covered by private companies locating there. Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, an NGO monitoring Israel’s Gaza blockade, said steps like removing restrictions on the types of goods Gazans can market to Israel and the West Bank could lead to immediate improvements. “I think Katz’s proposal raises questions about what the real goal is,” she said, asking whether part of it involves continuing “the isolation of Gaza.” Raji Sourani of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights was more blunt, saying of Israel that “we don’t want anything from them.” 

Referring to the blockade and the 50-year occupation of the West Bank, he said: “All that we want is for them to get off our shoulders. We want to be normal human beings.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday to move ahead on a plan to create Israel’s first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in more than 20 years despite international concern over the issue.

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© Arab News 2017
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