There is hardly a conflictual environment in the Middle East that is not subject to foreign input. And among these, the Gaza conundrum stands out as one of the prime examples.
The Gaza conundrum in essence has two components. The first is that the territory is not self-sufficient. With some 80% of its population aid-dependent, the very existence of Gaza is conditional on foreign assistance. This is in essence provided by Qatar and by Western governments that mostly channel their contributions through the UN system or through the European community.
The second component is that since 2007, Gaza has been ruled by Hamas, a politico-religious movement that in essence is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel. Granted the two on occasion talk to each other, but in terms of substance they are incompatible, to the extent that one is dedicated to the destruction of the other.
The end result is a situation of perennial conflict – a situation that serves the interests of no one, be it the donors, the people of Gaza, or the countries adjoining Gaza, namely Israel and Egypt.
It is a given that the parties directly concerned are not even close to crafting a formula that would ensure a tangible degree of peace and stability for Gaza. Thus the upshot for the foreseeable future is either a continuation of the current state of conflict or a solution, with one caveat: Just as the continued existence of Gaza is predicated on outside input, a solution can only be envisaged if imposed from the outside.
The first requirement for such an approach would be for a consortium of donors to adopt a master plan on the understanding that they would be ready ruthlessly to cut all funding or assistance for Gaza whatever the consequences if the master plan is not implemented. Such a master plan should be endorsed by Egypt as its leading force and also by Saudi Arabia. Israel should concur with the master plan but take a back seat regarding its implementation.
The next step would require that, barring a major policy change, the top leadership of Hamas with their extended families be encouraged to accept an honorable and safe retirement in an Arab country. Conversely, the various social services put up by Hamas should be preserved but under a different leadership.
Simultaneously, based on the master plan, the consortium of donors led by Egypt would set up in Gaza a provisional administration, or even a UN Trusteeship supported by a strong contingent of UN Peacekeepers from Arab countries. This administration would proclaim independence, adopt a constitution and sign a peace treaty with Israel. All the current inhabitants of Gaza would be granted full citizenship of the new state.
In demographic terms, this would be a viable proposition, especially when considering that the population density of Gaza is some 5,500 inhabitants per square kilometer as opposed to some 7,700 for Singapore.
With access to the sea, a generally well-educated population and substantial gas reserves offshore, Gaza, thanks to its location, could well become a prosperous production hub at the junction between the Middle East and Europe.
Such an approach would not only require a commitment by donors to support the new state on the road to self-sufficiency but also a commitment by Gaza to implement a legal and political environment consonant with international norms.
In parallel, the “right of return” pertaining to the Palestinian refugees currently in Gaza, if only for emotional reasons, should be addressed. This would entail some compensation including, a massive construction effort that would provide the citizens of Gaza of Palestinian origin with full property rights to a new abode.
Left to the vagaries of the Middle East, the Palestinian Republic of Gaza will never see the light of day. Granted, the project is doable and, whatever the snags, the end result should be better than the current conundrum. Conversely, what is lacking is both the political will to confront the issue and the courage to do so.
And given the dearth of leaders in the global political establishment, the emergence of a government with a visionary figure who would take such a cause in hand is to say the least unlikely.
And yet, one can dream.