UK, France, Germany propose plan for Gaza reconstruction

Israel ready to consider proposal calling for international mechanism to demilitarize Strip, ease restrictions on movement, trade and fishing

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A tunnel, within a civilian home, found by Golani soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit/ Flash 90)
A tunnel, within a civilian home, found by Golani soldiers in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit/ Flash 90)

Britain, France and Germany presented Israel Wednesday with a plan for the rehabilitation of Gaza, which calls for the Strip’s demilitarization but at the same time demands Israel ease the blockade of the coastal enclave.

The initiative was presented to National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and senior Foreign Ministry officials, who, sources say, are inclined to work with the Europeans on its implementation.

In a two-page document, the three countries, known as E3, acknowledge Israel’s security concerns and support its goal of demilitarizing Gaza, but at the same time insist that to enable the Strip’s proper “rebuilding and stabilizing,” the restrictions placed on the free movement of people and goods need to be eased. The status quo as it existed prior to Operation Protective Edge is no longer tenable, the E3 argue.

The core of the proposal, which is written in vague terms, calls for the creation of an international mechanism that would better monitor goods entering and exiting Gaza. This mechanism would verify that materials such as iron and cement brought into the Strip not reach Hamas and other terrorist groups, which are thought likely to use them for military purposes.

On the other hand, the E3 paper also requires Israel to allow Gazans more freedom of movement and more access to the outside world so that they can revive their economy. It also calls for an internationally supervised mechanism to enable maritime trade and demands Gazans be given more than three miles of offshore fishing rights. (In March 2013, after rockets were fired at Sderot, Israel reduced the zone allowed for offshore fishing to three miles, after it had been raised to six as part of the 2012 ceasefire agreement following Operation Pillar of Defense.)

The European nations’ proposal does not mention the Palestinian demand for the creation of an airport.

The plan also calls for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to a position of authority in Gaza, and the possibility of returning the European Union’s Border Assistance Mission, or EUBAM, to the Rafah border crossing to Egypt alongside the Palestinian presidential guard, according to Haaretz. Abbas’s PA was violently ousted by Hamas when the latter group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

The United Nations could also play an expanded role in this mechanism, according the E3 draft.

The proposal was received positively by officials in Jerusalem, European and Israeli officials confirmed. Jerusalem is ready to hold a “serious dialogue on how to deal with the reconstruction of Gaza,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel Thursday.

“There are no constraints and no limits whatsoever for humanitarian aid reaching Gaza,” he said, adding that Jerusalem is ready to work with the United Nations and relevant foreign governments to facilitate the immediate transfer of goods and medication into the strip. “We have said yes to the reconstruction of Gaza, but no to the reconstruction of Hamas, and definitely no to the rehabilitation of its terrorist machine.”

Israel will insist that in the framework of Gaza’s rehabilitation an ironclad mechanism be instituted to ensure that materials such as cement will actually be used for the construction of civilian institutions and not for tunnels, as was the case in the past, the official noted. In recent years, the EU has repeatedly called on Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza, for example by allowing greater quantities of cement into the Strip.

After the discovery and demolition of dozens of “terror tunnels” in Gaza in the course of Operation Protective Edge, Jerusalem has “reason to believe that the international community is going to be a bit more realistic about this issue,” the senior official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening said that Israel is cooperating with the Palestinian Authority on the future of Gaza, and “prepared to see a role for them,” but refused to elaborate.

Hamas must be prevented from rearming as part of Gaza’s general demilitarization, Netanyahu said. “That is the sure way to guarantee that this conflict will not repeat itself.”

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