Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace
August 5th, 2014
04:25 PM ET

Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, and Chairman of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, University of York. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Israel’s repeated wars on the Gaza strip have taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and this latest offensive is no different. Israeli shelling first damaged, then destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, while waves of attacks have shredded power lines and ruptured sewage systems. Indeed, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates as much as two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 1.8 million now lacks or has very limited access to potable water or sanitation services.

But such disregard for basic civilian infrastructure will ultimately prove counterproductive – if Israel genuinely wants a lasting solution to the conflict, it must be made to appreciate that the reconstruction and development of Gaza, not its utter destruction, is crucial.

While the death toll in the strip has continued to climb – even if the current cease-fire holds, it has hit more than 1,800, mostly civilians – the most basic requirements for any kind of dignity and quality of life are being destroyed, and more than 425,000 have been left homeless by the actual or threatened demolition of their homes. Yet the destruction of Gazan infrastructure began long before the first airstrikes and rocket launches of the present conflict. The tiny enclave, measuring about 140 square miles, has been under effective siege since 2007, turning it into what is in many respects the world’s largest open-air prison – even construction materials such as the cement, steel and pipes that are needed to expand the enclave’s water treatment system are banned under the embargo.

And yet members of the international community are at best standing aside, and at worst fuelling the conflict. The United States, for one, has poured hundreds of millions into Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system. But while the U.S. may have been hoping that shielding Israeli citizens from the fallout of the siege on Gaza would avert the scenes of disproportionate collective punishment that we have seen on our TV screens in the past, U.S. assistance has in fact had the opposite effect, producing an emboldened Israeli sense of invincibility.

Israeli talking points inevitably focus on when the last rocket was fired from Gaza, or alternate between touting the precision of Israeli Defense Forces bombardments while making excuses for direct hits on civilian infrastructure. Unfortunately, such justifications for prolonging the campaign have been successful in securing support at home – a recent poll showed more than 95 percent of Jewish Israelis believe the current war is justified. Yet despite such strong domestic support, the international opinion appears to be shifting against Israel – five Latin American countries have withdrawn their ambassadors to Israel over the past week.

With all this going on, it is understandable that most aren’t considering what will happen in the aftermath of an eventual truce. But if the previous two Israeli offensives are any guide, then we can expect calls for the charitable rebuilding of Gaza, with Israel suggesting it is prepared to support reconstruction efforts in return for the disarming of Hamas and other militant groups. The Palestinians won’t accept this, and Israel can then be expected to impose its own reconstruction agenda, further extending the suffering of civilians.

This is not acceptable. Estimates of the economic toll of the damage from this war are in the region of $3 billion, far more than the annual GDP for the Gaza Strip. With that figure in mind, it is high time that the international community calculated the economic, social, and human costs of this latest conflict and presented Israel with the bill, which would at the very least confront Israelis with the true cost of this latest round of destruction.

Israel is, of course, unlikely to be inclined to lift a finger to help develop the Gaza strip. Indeed, it clearly prefers an underdeveloped ghetto to a viable foreign country on its borders. Yet if the Israeli government cannot be convinced that economic opportunity and the chance of a stable life – rather than a continuous cycle of violence and reconstruction – will help address the root causes of the conflict, then it is time for Israel to step out of the way entirely.

If Israel is determined to wall itself off from the enclave, then the international community should ensure that Gaza at least has access to the outside world. Lifting the siege is a key demand of Hamas, and at a bare minimum, the strip needs access to the sea, with regularized shipping activity not subject to an Israeli blockade. Egypt, too, should be targeted by the international community to ensure that the Rafah border crossing remains open – stable, regulated commerce with the Gaza strip will do more to undermine the illicit tunnel trade than any number of Egyptian demolition operations.

For the population of Gaza the miseries of wars in 2008-9, 2012 and now 2014 have been compounded by the grim drama of watching reconstruction efforts stall and then effectively get reset. If the cycle of violence is to be stopped, then Gaza needs time and diplomatic space under international protection to pursue a long term program of development. The question is how long it will take Israel to realize that this is the only path to a lasting peace.


soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. Bruce D

    I don't agree at all with all those who say that because Israel has the right to defend itself it has the right to destroy civilian infrastructure on a massive scale and collectively punish the people of Gaza. Much of the damage wasn't strategic in terms of military installations but a desperate parting shot aimed at undermining the people and infrastructure of Gaza. The Mossad has shown that it is capable of assassinating Hamas leaders in Dubai and elsewhere so why can't it target just the leaders in Gaza? It seems the aim is not just to neutralise the real threat posed by Hamas capabilities but to destroy the will of the Gazan people and erode the support of Hamas. But it won't work because Hamas and similar organisations thrive on poverty and masses of angry young men. What is predicted in the article is unfolding as we speak as the 'international community' goes begging for more money to rebuild Gaza only for another round of destruction. Israel's actions don't speak of a victorious nation but rather an angry and twisted one that is out of ideas. They haven't achieved their strategic objective of defeating Hamas but played into their propaganda. The stage is set once more for the next episode of rebuilding, destruction, rebuilding, and so on – in short, lunacy at once funded and appeased by the 'international community'.

    August 7, 2014 at 7:22 am | Reply
    • rich b

      Is it not collective punishment to fire rockets at Israeli cities with the intent to kill civilians, in retaliation for the government imposing a blockade on Gaza?

      If Hams was able to import 10,000 rockets into Gaza, use massive amounts of concrete and rebar to build hundreds of tunnels, acquire anti-tank weapons, etc. with a blockade in place, what will happen with open borders???

      Last time I bothered to look, Hamas (and the people that voted for Hamas) pledged to wipe Israel off the face of the map. They openly avow that it is a scarred duty to reclaim all the land from the river to the sea, I believe that is their goal.

      August 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Reply
    • Eva

      I guess you missed the part about how Hamas "strategically" places its rockets in densely civilian areas of Gaza.

      August 7, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Reply
      • Christine Godinet

        I agree Eva. I think this article is a complete farce and an appalling piece of journalism. As Roi says, it has totally ignored the fact that Hamas started the war, first by murdering 3 Israeli students, (the cowards) and then by the continual firing of rockets at Israel.
        And if Hamas choses to hide behind the skirts of women and children – then Hamas are responsible for their deaths.
        Israel has the right to defend herself, and her obligation is to the safety of her own people – not of Palestians, who by the way are occupying Israels land that was given to them long long long before these people who call themsleves Palestinians came on the scene.
        Why do you think they can't trace their history back any further than 1948.
        CNN must be totally stupid and uneducated to believe the rubbish printed here, and they have forgotten who their allies are and who the terrorists are.
        Oh, should remind them also, that while Gaza was under Israeli occupation, it was a thriving, modern nation, however, after Hamas TOOK IT BY VIOLENT FORCE, it went the way of every Islamic controlled nation, destruction, murder, hatred, mayhem, the oppression of women, and poverty as Hamas used aid money to build tunnels and buy weapons to fuel their stupid hatred and jealousy.
        Israel put up borders for her own protection after terrorists from Palestine entered into Israel and carried out threats of terrorism. Bet there's been very few since.
        CNN would be wise to learn the truth behind Hamas and even Palestine – which was ALWAYS a Jewish nation, until Israel was forced to give up Gaza and the Westbank to be LEGALLY recognized as a nation.
        Too bad for Gaza and the Westbank.
        Pity more western nations don't follow Israels lead and get rid of all terrorist out of their nations – before they find themselves in bloody battle with these murdering swine known as Hamas and ISIS.
        But guess some are just too blind to see the truth until it hits them in the face – literally.

        August 30, 2014 at 1:15 am |
  2. Ben

    You don't think perhaps that Hamas should get the bill and not Israel? Just asking...

    August 7, 2014 at 7:55 am | Reply
  3. Carradock

    Israel can have its Iron Dome but the U.S., EU and others should build Gaza an Iron Home – an international peacekeeping force and defensive systems to stop more Israeli brutality

    August 7, 2014 at 8:03 am | Reply
    • Stop

      Stop sending rockets to Israel. Ever think of that?

      August 7, 2014 at 8:45 am | Reply
      • Carradock

        Israel can build its own rockets. Got any more bright ideas?

        August 7, 2014 at 9:30 am |
      • Christine Godinet

        Some people are just too stupid to see the truth. Better to expell Hamas right out of Palestine – kill the lot if that's what it takes, as they raise children into hatred and murder, and then give Palestine back to it's rightful owner, Israel to control. Watch the nation thrive again.
        Pftttt. Can't get over the ignorance of some people. They need to go away and do some proper research on Israels history, and Palestines lack of history, (apart from that as a Jewish nation) , and some history on Islam and it's goals and motives.
        I have never come across such trash as this kind of reporting before in my life, but I have heard that CNN is very good at it.

        August 30, 2014 at 1:21 am |
  4. Ken C

    Hamas and the Gazans were given a big chance to become an independent peaceful community and instead they used the materials allowed and smuggled in to build rockets and tunnels, instead of schools and apartments. Why should Israel give them a second chance? If Hamas were to agree to disarm, Israel would help the Gazans rebuild and prosper. Israel has no reason to keep Gaza as a second class community. The burden of coming up with a plan for improving Gaza is upon the government of Gaza, just as it is for every other community. And when it comes to casualties, why is the world so focused on those in Gaza. There are 150,000 dead in Syria, with hardly a word of protest by the media and politicians. If an Muslim kills 1000 other Muslims, no one cares. If an Israeli kills one Muslim, even in self defense, the world is appalled. What is the agenda here?

    August 7, 2014 at 8:11 am | Reply
  5. Am

    After this next cease fire fails, and Israel goes in to truly remove Hamase, they need to PUBLICALLY ANNOUNCE A HUMANE PLAN to rescue & evacuate the Palestinian civilians to temporary facilities, so they can be fed, medicated, sheltered and eventually transferred to new countries. Basically, be the good guys who rescue the civilians from Hamas. Otherwise, Hamas will sacrifice them on the altar of propaganda. Before all that, the UNRWA must be forced to leave Gaza, as they have been ineffective and actually wind up aiding Hamas. This is the most humane plan I know of – as most GAZANS are on record as not wanting to remain there no matter how, if or when it is rebuilt. They are aching to leave.

    August 7, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Max Brown

      I'm surprised by how many comments there are now on here but yours is the most interesting by far because it really can solve the problem which is that at least two-thirds of those in Gaza are refugees who have been pushed out of their homes from the so-called Israel today. Their return to their original homeland would clearly help the over-crowdedness and will probably contribute to addressing their deeply held grievances over generations. If their return to their homeland could be facilitated by returning hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers back to Manhattan, the West and East coast of America and elsewhere then what a great idea. Going back to this article – I think your plan of return is best administered by the UN whether UNRWA or whoever else.

      August 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Reply
      • rich b

        Don't suppose you know that almost as many Jews were forced to flee Islamic countries as there were Muslims that fled Israel around 1948. Don't suppose the took the time to know that the vast majority of Jews in Israel were born there. Don't suppose the know that Jews are not even allowed to even live in several Arab countries. Don't suppose one of the conditions imposed by Abbas for a peace agreement is that NO Jews be allowed to live in their new state.

        August 7, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        No Jewish persons at all allowed to live in some Islamic countries?
        What would happen if they changed their names, converted to Islam, and opened the only clothing stores in small towns?

        August 8, 2014 at 6:36 am |
  6. uconnharassment

    Judi Oshowole recently commented in a London publication, “Didn’t the Jews under siege in the Warsaw ghetto dig a network of tunnels? Wasn’t their attempts at resistance and survival a source of pride to Jewish people everywhere? Aren’t there books such as Mila 18 hailing their ingenuity and bravery in building the tunnels and defying the Gestapo attempts to control them? How can Israel now justify all the destruction and deaths because the Palestinians have also dug tunnels after being under siege for seven years? When will the world take on Israel’s hypocrisy and double standards and stop this slaughter?”
    It doesn't make you an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew if you disagree with what Israel is doing, just a person with a conscience, with compassion and a good heart. No more dead children. No more slaughter. Let's end this cult-like obsession with seeing Palestinian children die.

    August 7, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Reply
    • sly

      Uh ... maybe Israel isn't in Gaza because of the tunnels.

      Just a wild guess, but perhaps those 3000 rockets launched from the Gaza residential areas had something to do with it?

      August 7, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  7. chri§§y

    I totally agree with you @ Bruce D! And i just dont get everyone defending Israel because Israel is the Holy Land! Even though they've commited the most UNholiest of acts REPEATEDLY!

    August 7, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  8. Falcon Ator

    I disagree.

    August 8, 2014 at 10:39 am | Reply
  9. Lucy Koolig

    What a ridiculous and one-sided piece this one is. Anyone who bothers to look at this conflict with even a shred of analysis or thought would see that if anyone should be footing the bill for the damage in Gaza, it is HAMAS – the only ones who are responsible for the state Gaza is currently in. We might have to hold off on making our request that Hamas pay to repair the damage for when those barbarians have a spare moment from recruiting more children to build their terror tunnels and dragging around bodies of suspected Israel collaborators on the backs of motorcycles, which they have been so fond of doing of late.

    As for the outrageously unfounded claim that Israel prefers to live next to an "undeveloped ghetto", anyone who checked their facts (or CARED to tell the truth) would know that when Israel DISENGAGED from Gaza 9 years ago, it left greenhouses there so that the Palestinian people could have a real chance of a viable industry and means to make a living. The response? Palestinians looted the greenhouses. Israel sends immense amount of aid to Gaza (crazy when you think about what we all know the aid is ACTUALLY being used for) and in fact, Israel has continued to send aid during this conflict.

    I am so sorry that the recent 72 hour ceasefire was not extended. No prizes for guessing WHO rejected the extension, and in fact VIOLATED the ceasefire before the 72 hours was up... Gazans can once again thank Hamas for that one.

    Sultan Barakat should keep his clearly bigoted views to himself.

    August 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Reply
    • Max Brown

      that's simply not true. the facts are that the settlers destroyed all the houses and greenhouses worth keeping on their way out and left mostly rubble and smashed up greenhouses with no economic value and that even worse caused an environmental crisis from the asbestos. It is mind-boggling to see how the pro-Israel spin machine can turn this around to look like a charitable gift. It is very clear that the Israeli siege is aimed at the de-development of Gaza. You are clearly an advocate of further de-development, poverty and generally turning Gaza into a tinder box ready to spark more rounds of regional conflict.

      August 10, 2014 at 6:20 am | Reply
      • Susan Jones

        http://www.nbcnews.com/id/9331863/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/looters-strip-gaza-greenhouses/#.U-rjF_ldWXw Wow and this from the NBC! Hardly an Israel advocate! It is mind-boggling to see how the Israel bashers and haters spin machine can turn this around to deny any of the altruism of Israel's disengagement which caused such upheaval politically and for the Israelis who were forcibly removed from their homes there. It is very clear that Hamas/the Palestinian leadership is aimed at keeping Gaza undeveloped – this aids in propagating the Gazans as victims story. You are clearly an advocate of keeping it this way too.

        August 13, 2014 at 12:11 am |
  10. Roi

    You've forgot to mention that Gaza attacked Israel with thousands of rockets. How do you expect Israel to make peace with a bunch of righteous liars?

    August 9, 2014 at 12:14 am | Reply
  11. Hebrew Isrealite Tel Arad.

    Time has come for the world to know you cant hide the truth forever the cats out the bag,the world is realized that Khazarian Turkic war like people so called Ashkenazi leadership. Is in fact not the true Hebrews. The. Isrelies. top DNA. doctor's. did the test. and they gave a copy to primeminister. bibi. he was. shocked. Arthur. Kessler. Was right all along the 13th Tribe is not Hebrews

    September 1, 2014 at 6:53 pm | Reply
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