Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman blocked a cabinet initiative to construct an artificial island off the Gaza coast to allow the flow of goods into the territory, Haaretz reported Monday.
Top officials briefed on Sunday’s cabinet meeting said many ministers expressed support for Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s plan that seeks to alleviate conditions in the Strip while maintaining the country’s security control.
The island, proposed at some 534 hectares (1,320 acres) and at a cost of approximately $5 billion, would include infrastructure to provide Gaza with essential services it currently lacks, including desalination facilities for clean water and an electricity plant, a freight harbor and an area for container storage — which Katz says will help open the Gazan economy to the outside world — and a bridge would connect it to Gaza, with one portion acting as a drawbridge. An airport could be considered at a later stage.
A key point for Katz is Israel would control security around the island and in the port, with threats such as rockets and tunnels that could be used for attacks from the territory a major concern. On the island itself, Katz envisions an international police force.
Briefed officials said supporters of the plan in the cabinet included Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Housing Minister Yoav Galant.
However, Liberman voice opposition on security grounds, saying he did not believe goods passing through the island could be properly vetted to ensure no weapons are smuggled into Gaza. He also reportedly said the rehabilitation of Gaza should be contingent on its demilitarization.
The cabinet meeting ended with no decision being made.
Katz on Monday told Haaretz’s Israel Conference on Peace that he had shown ministers a short film on the proposed island which “presented the alternative reality that could emerge in Gaza.”
“I said it in (that) forum and I say it here publicly — give me the okay and I’ll do this,” he said. “Foreign Ministry diplomats will be able to tour the globe and show this positive initiative for the most difficult place in the region.”
Katz said he regretted the cabinet’s inability to make a decision on the matter.
“Israel has no policy for Gaza. The Israeli march of folly, the inability to reach a decision, has been going on for years.”
He said the security establishment supported his plan, “so why no give two million Palestinians a humanitarian, economic passageway, and a transportation hub to the world, that could bring about great change?”
Katz has pushed his idea of an artificial island for several years now, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of the security cabinet never adopted it.
Raphael Ahren and AFP contributed to this report.