The Cable

Israeli Minister Plans a Floating Island Off the Coast of Gaza

Why build a seaport in Gaza when you could build a brand new island? Security, that’s why.

TOPSHOT - A Palestinian boy walks along the sea during a foggy day in Gaza City on February 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED        (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A Palestinian boy walks along the sea during a foggy day in Gaza City on February 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

A member of the Israeli government is floating a new, $5 billion plan for Gaza — an artificial island three miles off the coast that would serve as a secure lifeline for the embattled Palestinian enclave.

The Israeli Ministry of Intelligence, in cooperation with the Ministry of Transportation, released a video detailing its plan for an artificial island with an airport, seaport, power plant, and more that would allow Palestinians a “humanitarian, economic, and transportation gateway to the world without endangering Israel’s security.” The only problem? Gaza would not be in control of it.

The island is the brainchild of Yisrael Katz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and transportation (the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. stressed that the proposal is that of Katz, and not the government as a whole). Katz first proposed the project seven years ago and brought it to attention again last week. Arye Shalicar, Katz’s media adviser, said that most of the politicians and senior security officials now speak in favor of his plan — a substantial difference from the critiques he met from politicans seven years ago.

Katz suggested that Saudi or Chinese investors would finance and build the island, even though Israel would maintain a firm grip over everything that comes into, off of, or even near the island. (The Washington Post has the official video, promoting a sleek-looking array of ports, checkpoints, and warehouses.)  

The island would enable Gaza to reconnect with the world. And while an international police force would be in charge of public order on the island, Israel would remain in control of the surrounding waters and be responsible for security inspection within the port. Many critics fear the project would serve to make permanent the border controls Israel already has on Gaza.

One senior official in Hamas, the Islamist militant group that effectively runs Gaza, told Al-Monitor that “an Israeli-inspired island under full Israeli control would result in the perpetuation of the blockade.” The official said that the only solution would be to allow the Palestinians to build a seaport on Gaza’s shore — a condition Israel cannot agree to as they fear the militants will use it to import weaponry. (The Israeli Embassy objected to this quote, offering, “Roughly 1,000 trucks enter daily from Israel into the Gaza Strip through the Israeli border, so there is no blockade.”)

Relations between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza have been dire for ages, even though Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza strip over a decade ago. Israel worries that the coastal enclave, which remains under the control of Hamas, is a soft underbelly for the country’s security, given its proximity to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula and plenty of smuggling tunnels underground.

Tensions peaked in 2014, leading to over 1,500 Palestinian deaths in Gaza and around 67 in Israel. Since then, residents in the Gaza strip are essentially trapped within 140 square miles. In the wake of the 2014 violence, Israel blocked Gaza’s ability to import and export goods, which made it difficult to rebuild houses and schools destroyed during the fighting. Today, Israel maintains control over Gaza’s airspace and ports, transportation to the West Bank, trade, taxes, and electricity.

If Israel can find international investors willing to pay billions for an artificial island, it might just have found a way to ease Gaza’s supply problems, if not the strip’s political isolation.

Update, June 28, 2017, 4:12 pm ET: This post has been updated to include comment and clarification from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. 

Photo credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

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