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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Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true

The fear that voting Ukip would prove a gateway drug for Labour voters appears to be being borne out. 

An astonishing new poll for the Cardiff University Governance Centre and ITV Cymru shows a historic result: the Conservatives ending a 167-year wait for an election victory in Wales.

The numbers that matter:

Conservatives: 40 per cent

Labour: 30 per cent

Plaid Cymru: 13 per cent

Liberal Democrats: 8 per cent

Ukip: 6 per cent

Others: 3 per cent

And for context, here’s what happened in 2015:

Labour 36.9 per cent

Conservatives 27.2 per cent

Ukip 13.6 per cent

Plaid Cymru 12.1 per cent

Liberal Democrat 6.5 per cent

Others 2.6 per cent

There’s a lot to note here. If repeated at a general election, this would mean Labour losing an election in Wales for the first time since the First World War. In addition to losing the popular vote, they would shed ten seats to the Tories.

We're talking about a far more significant reverse than merely losing the next election. 

I don’t want to detract from how bad the Labour performance is in a vacuum – they have lost 6.9 per cent of their vote on 2015, in any case the worst election performance for Labour in Wales since the rout of 1983.  But the really terrifying thing for Labour is not what is happening to their own vote, though that is pretty terrifying.

It’s what’s happened to the Conservative vote – growing in almost every direction. There is some direct Labour to Tory slippage. But the big problem is the longtime fear of Labour MPs – that voting for Ukip would be a gateway drug to voting for the mainstream right – appears to be being realised. Don't forget that most of the Ukip vote in Wales is drawn from people who voted Labour in 2010. (The unnoticed shift of the 2010-5 parliament in a lot of places was a big chunk of the Labour 2010 vote went to Ukip, but was replaced by a chunk of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote.) 

If repeated across the United Kingdom, the Tory landslide will be larger than the 114 majority suggested by the polls and a simple national swing.

As I’ve said before, polls are useful, but they are not the be-all and end-all. The bad news is that this very much supports the pattern at elections since the referendum – Labour falling back, the Tories losing some votes to the Liberal Democrats but more than making up the loss thanks to the collapse of Ukip.

The word from Welsh Labour is that these figures “look about right” at least as far as the drop in the Labour vote, though of course they have no idea what is going on with their opponents’ vote share. As for the Conservatives, their early experiences on the doorstep do show the Ukip vote collapsing to their benefit.

One Labour MP said to me a few days again that they knew their vote was holding up – what they didn’t know was what was happening to their opponents. That’s particularly significant if you have a “safe seat” but less than 50 per cent of the vote.

Wales has local elections throughout the country on 4 May. They should provide an early sign whether these world-shaking figures are really true. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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