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

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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad