$10b investment will turn Gaza into the Riviera

Dr. Yacov Sheinin says the only way to stop the rocket fire is to greatly raise the Gazans' standard of living.

The IDF's air operations in Gaza in response to the rocket fire against Israel were effective and smart. It completly stopped the fire, caused immense damage to Hamas, and won global support for Israel's right to respond. We ended the campaign after eight days without a new Goldstone Report, without a second Winograd Commission, and with Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood turning overnight into an honest broker, possibly because Egyptians are hungry and it imports wheat from the US. (Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat).

The rocket fire from Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel. Dealing with the rocket fire is necessary to protect Israel's people, but power is a tactical problem that involves the struggle for global public opinion. The world and our neighbors see Israel as the "neighborhood thug", but we must strive to be seen as a "just and merciful thug". Only this image will allow us to live in the Middle East and belong to the West culturally, economically, and socially.

Hamas exists, and will probably continue to exist, as long as the Palestinians exist. We cannot liquidate it or the Islamic Jihad, or the Muslim Brotherhood. Conversely, we can ensure for ourselves and our children that Hamas's goal of expelling us from here will never materialize.

The military balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians is like the balance between an elephant and an ant. I hope that no one really thinks that the Israel Air Force, which operated like a surgeon with a powerful laser (an amazingly elegant and effective operation), is worth the same or less than 1,500 pieces of rusty pipe that are thrown in despair against Israel's cities.

It is a good thing that Israel did not have to use its ground forces. Anyone who saw the pictures of the IDF at the staging areas understood its power and the chasm between us and them. It is a good thing that we did not have kill multitudes of Palestinians. The world would never allow Israel to do so, and we need to cooperate with the world. We cannot be isolated like Iran! We are part of the West, for good or ill.

I was very pleased that IDF reservists were disappointed that they were not sent to fight in Gaza. It would be great if they never fight there again. For anyone who has forgotten what combat would mean should reprise the experience of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Let's be suckers

However, it is important to remember that so long as Gazans remain "imprisoned" in the overcrowded Gaza Strip (the most densely populated place on earth), with an 18th century standard of living, they will continue to bother us. When Israel's standard of living is around the average in the developed world, with a GDP per capita of over $30,000, the Palestinians in Gaza do not even reach $2,000 GDP per capita, the launch of rockets is not surprising, and cannot be expected to cease.

The Palestinians in Gaza, and them only, dragged themselves into this awful situation. They deliberately isolated themselves. We left Gaza in 2005! Maybe to end the rocket fire, we should now deliver them from the disaster that they brought upon themselves.

The only way to stop the rocket fire over time is greatly raise the Gazans' standard of living. The goal should be a four-fold or greater increase in the current standard of living within a maximum of 15 years (which means an annual growth rate of 10%), so that the Gazans will have something to lose, and a lot. Fortunately, Gazans total just 1.5 million people, so the task is economically possible.

We should help Gazans build reasonable apartments for themselves (half of them still live in refugee camps), build light industry (especially electronics assembly and textiles), help them build a reasonable healthcare system, given them enough desalinated water for drinking, help them build their own power stations powered by either Israeli or Egyptian natural gas, foster a roads network in the Gaza Strip and even provide a rail and bridge (or tunnel) link to Judea and Samaria.

Preliminary calculations estimate that $10 billion is needed to rehabilitate Gaza. The money will be in the form of goods (not cash), directly to the residents (not their leaders) over ten straight years.

Israel should contribute $2.5 billion from funds for future generations to this cause (the cost of two Operation Pillar of Cloud), but we should not do this alone. The Gulf states should give $2.5 billion, the US - $2.5 billion, and Europe - $2.5 billion.

The economic significance for the Gazans is more than $35,000 per family in aid. This amount should make possible the economic recovery of Gaza and let it achieve an annual growth rate of 10%, so that, within 15 years, the GDP per capita will reach $8,000. Gaza could even become a Mediterranean Riviera between Lebanon and Egypt.

Israel has a supreme security and economic interest in initiating the rise in the Gazans' standard of living without the need for promises or anything in return from them, not even to demand that they forego the right of return.

I am convinced that such a process will not make Israelis suckers. After all, they have seen our military capabilities: Operation Pillar of Cloud, Operation Cast Lead, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Defensive Shield, the Yom Kippur War, the Six-Day War, the Sinai Campaign, and the War of Independence. These are sufficient examples.

It is already clear that Obama 2 is completely different from Obama 1. The US president will take revenge on Israel or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama is now striving to work with Congress, which supports Israel without reservations, to avoid going over the fiscal cliff. Over the next four years, Obama will presumably devote most of his time to rebuilding the US economy, rather than problems of "fixing" the Middle East.

Furthermore, it seems that the international situation has completely changed: the US, Germany, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and other countries like them, are no longer the same haughty countries operating in the "economic bubble" of 2006-08, before the global economic crisis. Today, it's every company for itself. The US has withdrawn from Iraq and is quitting Afghanistan; Europe is trying with all its might to keep the Eurozone intact; Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has to feed its hungry and frustrated people by asking for charity from America; and the oil-rich Gulf emirates are quaking from Iran, which wants their oil just when the US interest in their oil is waning as the US makes progress on energy independence. Under these conditions, it seems that no one is really interested in the Middle East conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the current reality, only the Israelis and the Palestinians can help themselves. We, the strong, should extend a hand to Gazans without asking for anything in return. The sooner we do this, the result will be more effective and cheaper, in terms of both economics and security.

We will probably not be beloved in Gaza, but it will be possible to let the Gazans see us as "temporary" neighbors with whom it is possible and worthwhile to live alongside in peace for many years. Afterwards, the habit and wish for a better life will probably extend this form of normal neighborliness from one generation to the next.

The writer is the CEO of Economic Models Ltd.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 28, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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