The Offer that Turns the Gaza Strip into Singapore
The Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas has once again demonstrated its priorities: killing Jews. That clearly takes precedence over easing the plight of the two million Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip.
Since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, the conditions of the Palestinians living there have gone from bad to worse. Crisis after crisis has hit those under the Hamas rule; electricity and water as well as lack of medicine and proper medical care are in dangerously short supply.
Disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have left the Gaza Strip dangerously short of fuel, resulting in massive power outages. Palestinians there consequently have had to resort to using wood for cooking and heating. Hamas, which has brought about three wars that wreaked havoc on its people, is unable to provide them with basic needs.
Last week, Hamas received an offer that no sane entity would turn down. It is to be noted that the offer did not come from Hamas's friends and allies in Iran and the Arab and Islamic world. Rather, the offer, which promises to turn the Gaza Strip, where most residents live in the poverty of "refugee camps," into "the Singapore of the Middle East," came from Israel.
Specifically, the offer was made by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who proposed building a seaport and an airport, as well as industrial zones that would help create 40,000 jobs in the Gaza Strip, if Hamas agreed to demilitarization and to dismantling the tunnels and rocket systems it has built up.
"The Gazans must understand that Israel, which withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the last millimeter, is not the source of their suffering -- it is the Hamas leadership, which doesn't take their needs into consideration," Lieberman said in a televised message to the residents of the Gaza Strip. "The moment Hamas gives up its tunnels and rockets, we'll be the first to invest."
Only Israel has ever made such an offer to Hamas. Such a plan would vastly improve the living conditions of the Gaza Strip population. All Hamas is required to do is abandon its weapons and plans to kill Jews, and return the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers.
A seaport and an airport would place the Gaza Strip on the global map and open it to investors not only from Israel, but from many other countries as well. Arab and Islamic states, however, are unlikely to rush in to invest in Gaza because, by and large, they despise the Palestinians. One of these countries, Egypt, imposes strict travel restrictions on the Palestinians in Gaza by keeping the Rafah border crossing closed for most days of the year. The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are considered personae non gratae in many Arab and Islamic countries. Why? Perhaps because they see them as a security threat. Or perhaps simply because they hate their Arab brothers.
Still, there is no shortage of investors in the West who, if given the opportunity and the proper political climate, would not hesitate to invest their money in the Gaza Strip.
Sadly for the residents of Gaza, none of this is going to happen. Their leaders in Hamas, some of whom have accumulated large fortunes and are living comfortable lives in oil-rich Gulf countries, are not interested in alleviating their people's misery. On the contrary; Hamas wants its people suffering, as bitter Palestinians are perfect candidates for recruitment to the jihad (holy war) against Israel, the Jews and the West.
But all of this takes some spin -- at which Hamas, like its rival, the Palestinian Authority, is masterful. Whatever goes wrong in their territories as a result of their failed policies, Israel is to blame.
Israel's latest offer to clean up the murderous mess that is now the Gaza Strip was rejected within hours of its delivery. One Hamas spokesman after the other made it clear that the Islamic movement is not interested in turning the Gaza Strip into "the Singapore of the Middle East," but rather wishes to maintain its current status as a base for jihad and the promotion of extremist ideology, anti-Semitism and anti-Western sentiments.
Why did Hamas reject an offer for a seaport, airport and tens of thousands of jobs for Palestinians? Because Hamas does not see its conflict with Israel as an economic issue. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.
"The Israeli offer is a silly one," explained Palestinian political analyst Ibrahim Al-Madhoun. "Hamas rejected it because Hamas does not wish to turn the case of liberating the land and Palestinians into an economic issue."
To clarify further: Hamas does not want a new "Singapore" in the Middle East. Hamas wants Israel to disappear from the Middle East and ideally from the face of the earth. The welfare of Palestinians living under its rule is the last thing on the mind of Hamas.
Strikingly, Hamas leaders openly admit all of this. "If we wanted to turn the Gaza Strip into Singapore, we could have achieved that with our own hands," declared senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar. He went on to say that Hamas is continuing to prepare for war with Israel in order to "liberate all of Palestine."
The "settlements," to them, are not Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem; they are Haifa, Jaffa (Tel Aviv), all of Jerusalem, all of Israel. Just look at any map of Palestine: the outline is identical to -- superimposed on -- Israel.
Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the poor unemployed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in the jihad to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.
Palestinian leaders are experts at rejecting Israeli gestures and offers for peace. While Hamas continues to say "no" to ending the suffering of the people living under its thumb, the Palestinian Authority continues to reject various Israeli offers for peace. In the past two decades, Palestinian leaders have rejected the advances of all Israeli prime ministers who offered them concessions and compromise. Indeed, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority share a deadly determination to sacrifice as many Palestinians as possible in their war to destroy Israel.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.