Israeli minister pushes artificial 'Gaza island' plan

Israeli minister pushes artificial 'Gaza island' plan
Israel's transport and intelligence minister released a slick high-production video on Wednesday to boost controversial plans to build an artificial island off Gaza's coast.
4 min read
29 June, 2017
Gaza has no seaport or airport, with the latter destroyed by Israel. [Getty]
Israel's transport and intelligence minister released a slick high-production video on Wednesday to boost controversial plans to build an artificial island off Gaza's coast, which he says will improve the economy of the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Plans for a seaport in Gaza have been discussed ever since the Oslo Accords of 1993 but have repeatedly stalled, either due to Israeli bombardments or restrictions on construction materials.  
Yisrael Katz, the Israeli minister for transport, first touted plans to build an artificial island off the Gaza coast in 2011 as a way to break off all ties with the enclave.

Gaza has no seaport or airport, with the latter destroyed by Israel during the Second Intifada. Although Israel withdrew military forces from the territory in 2005 it still controls all land, sea, and airspace around the tiny enclave, home to two million Palestinians.  

"The artificial island initiative is aimed at providing an answer to a reality that is bad for the Palestinians and not good for Israel," the narrator in the video says, tacitly accepting the dire economic conditions in Gaza.

The island will be "internationally financed, built and owned" and "constructed about three miles off the coast of Gaza", the narrator adds.
It would provide Palestinians with a "humanitarian, economic and transportation gateway to the world without endangering Israel's security", the video continues.

The 1,300-acre island will be connected to mainland Gaza via a causeway, which would include a bridge Israel can raise at any point in order to cut off access to the potential logistics hub for the besieged strip.

Israel would retain security control in the sea around the island and carry out inspections at the port, but an international police force would be responsible for security on the island and checkpoints at the bridge.

The island will provide "distinct security advantages" for Israel, the video says, and would also "strengthen the cooperation and relations between Israel and the countries in the region".

Isolating Gaza  

The island plan is promoted by the dramatic video as a luxury offshore development that would not be out of place in Dubai.

It stands in stark contrast, however, to the poverty of the Gaza Strip.

The international community and Israel boycotted Hamas after the movement won Palestinian elections in 2006, increasing restrictions on the territory after Hamas preempted a Fatah coup and ousted them from the territory.

Israel then imposed a blockade on Gaza, now a decade old, restricting the flow of goods and people in and out in a bid to pressure Hamas.

"Today, Israel continues to be perceived as being responsible for the Gaza Strip and is to a large extent the only lifeline to it, even though it withdrew from the strip over a decade ago," says the video.

A boy sits in the rubble of his home following Israel's 2014 war. [Getty Images]

Katz has presented the video to Israeli Prime Minsiter Binyamin Netanyahu's government, where it reportedly met with approval, but his plans have not been endorsed by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The hard-line minister has said Gaza does not deserve any development projects while Hamas still controls Gaza.

The construction of a seaport has long featured in Hamas' demands while negotiating past ceasefires with Israel during rounds of fighting, most notably in the 2014 war which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.

Sami Abu Zuhri, the group's spokesman, has said in the past that a seaport is a "right of its people to alleviate their suffering and end the blockade".

Other Hamas officials have criticised the plan, however, saying it would further cement the geographical divide between the West Bank and Gaza while maintaining the blockade.

The new island plan could also add to long-stated intentions by Israel to annex the West Bank and clean their hands of Gaza.

In the past, Israel has hinted at constructing the project in return for a long-term truce and the demobilisation of fighters in Gaza, but Palestinian officials in Gaza have labelled the offers political blackmail.

Donors have failed to follow through on funding pledges to rebuild Gaza since Israel's devastating offensive in 2014, with the United Nations saying the enclave could be "uninhabitable" by 2020.

Most of Gaza's residents, the majority refugees from what is now Israel, live below the poverty line, with world record unemployment figures.