Concern over a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip is shared by both international aid experts and Israel’s defense establishment. Absent major changes on the ground, the coastal enclave will be unfit for human dwelling by 2020.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the face of the Earth. Moreover, its population — half of which is under the age of 18 — is growing rapidly. In 2014, the Strip’s unemployment rate set a world record of 47%. Of all Gazans, 40% are classified as poor and 80% depend on support from international agencies.
During Operation "Protective Edge" (2014), about 100,000 of the Gaza residential units were damaged – 19,000 of which were completely destroyed. The crumbling electricity grid has taken a turn for the worse, as it currently supplies only 8 to 12 hours of power per day. Gaza’s sewage treatment facility and water supply have deteriorated to the point where there are concerns of an acute shortage of drinkable water.
Neither the situation on the ground nor the international community enables Israel to shed responsibility for the Gaza Strip. Following Hamas’ takeover in 2007, Israel (as well as Egypt) imposed a land, sea, and aerial blockade. Consequently, Gaza is dependent on Israel for water, electricity, and fuel supplies, and Israel controls all Gazans' access to the world, including for the passage of goods to the Strip.
Although Hamas bears most of the blame for the situation in Gaza, Israel cannot ignore the potential direct ramifications of humanitarian crisis on its security. The reconstruction of the enclave’s infrastructure and other steps to reduce the populace’s suffering are in Israel's strategic interests. These measures cannot await a change in intra-Palestinian dynamics and the regional-strategic environment.
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FACILITATE PAYING THE SALARIES OF HAMAS EMPLOYEES
Israel should quietly approve of an international effort to find a solution to Hamas’ payroll difficulties. To this end, the Israeli government should press the Palestinian Authority to stop hindering these efforts.
ENCOURAGE ARAB REENGAGEMENT WITH THE GAZA STRIP
An increase in international donor support and PA engagement can thwart the rise of extreme Islamic elements in the Strip, such as ISIS.
PREVENT STRENGTHENING OF EXTREMISTS
The more the situation deteriorates, the greater the challenge becomes of weakening Hamas and more extreme Islamic terrorist groups.
REINTRODUCE A PRESENCE OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
The Palestinian Authority's insistence that it takes no responsibility for Gaza before Hamas yields all political and security authority - and Hamas continuing its mission of an armed struggle against Israel - have created major obstacles for reconstruction of the Strip.
Creating conditions that will enable the Palestinian Authority to reestablish control over Gaza and thus serve as a 'partner' for the negotiation of a permanent status agreement, once the conditions are ripe for such talks, is in Israel's best interests.