What future? A medic helps a man in the wreckage of Shejaia, Gaza. Photo: Reuters
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Uri Dromi: Despair is not an option in Gaza

The Israeli economist Yaacov Sheinin proposes a bold economic answer to the rockets – but with the repressive Hamas in charge, would it have any chance of materialising?

Once again, Israelis and Palestinians have been plunged into another round of violence, which only brings bloodshed and destruction, breeds more hatred and plants the seeds of the next round.

Israel sent its army to Gaza only after exhausting all other options. By accepting the Egyptian and the UN proposals for a ceasefire, Israel demonstrated its restraint. At the same time, Hamas rejected the Egyptian offer and violated the UN one, thus exposing its true vicious face.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukri, blamed Hamas for the Israeli incursion. “Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians,” he said.

However, playing the blame game successfully and winning points in the world public-opinion arena are not enough. There is growing awareness in Israel that pounding Gaza and even combing its tunnels network will not by themselves guarantee long-term calm; a new, out-of-the-box way of thinking is desperately needed. This, unsurprisingly, has come not from Israel’s political or military circles but from its economic ones.

The Israeli economist Yaacov Sheinin, writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, made an interesting comparison between Gaza and – hold your laughter – Singapore. Gaza is considered to be one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 5,000 people per square kilometre, but Singapore is denser, with 8,000 people per square kilometre. Yet while the people of Singapore produce an average GDP per capita of around $60,000 per year, the Gazans make just $1,000.

Sheinin is proposing a bold economic answer to the rockets. Once again, he reasons, it is clear that the Gazans are not gaining anything by their actions. If we are neither complacent nor vengeful but after every round we offer them economic prosperity, eventually they will get it. “We should present to the people of Gaza an offer they can’t reject, with no time limit,” he wrote. “For a non-belligerence agreement, Israel should initiate economic aid for building apartments for the refugees, for transportation infrastructure, for natural gas, and so on.”

According to this plan, the financial burden – $1bn a year – will be shouldered equally by Israel, the western countries and the Gulf states but Israel should be the most active partner. The reason, according to Sheinin, is simple: “It is cheaper to assist the Gazans economically than to fight them militarily.”

This win-win deal, which gives each party what it wants most – calm for the Israelis and a future for the children of Gaza – seems reasonable and logical. So why, then, do I have the feeling that its chances of materialising are slim?

It is because, unlike the Israelis, the people of Gaza are not able to express their opinions on this matter freely. Under the repressive Hamas regime, being used as human shields, they have no say in decisions about their future.

Despair, however, is not an option. Israel should fight Hamas vigorously until it thinks twice before harassing our cities again (see the Hezbollah precedent following the second Lebanon war in 2006). Alongside this military stick, we should always offer an economic carrot.

Arab forces should also be engaged in curbing the ability of Hamas to deny the Gazans a future. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Mahmoud Abbas – they all fear radical Islam no less than we do. For, in the final analysis, the success of Hamas extremism and others like it would result in their own downfall.

Israel, then, is not alone in this region. And Europe is a potential partner, too. According to Reuters, “Nine European Union countries [have] agreed to share intelligence and seek to fight radical Islam on the internet to counter the risk of European citizens going to fight in Syria or Iraq bringing violence back home.”

Israel now fights a just war to defend its citizens from indiscriminate terror attacks. The aim of war is to gain a better peace. The best way to achieve that is to offer the people of Gaza an economic hope beyond the present gloom. 

Uri Dromi, an occasional contributor to the NS, was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments, 1992-96

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double 2014

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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