ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Exchanging Gaza for Negev Development 10.4.04

Exchanging Gaza for Negev Development

10 April 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

George Bush and Ariel Sharon are facing their Middle East quagmires and some mutual self-help can extricate them. After a week of battling both Shiite and Sunni Iraqi insurgencies, the American president needs to be seen as working for the benefit of the Arab world. Not being able to free American forces from the Iraqi quicksand, he will seek to work with Sharon to facilitate an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and thereby gain credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians and the Arab world in general.

Presidential support for Sharons Disengagement Plan should enhance the PMs stature to the point of enabling him to gain the crucial Yes vote in the Likud referendum to be held at the end of the month. Should he fail to obtain support in his own party, the disengagement will die and the PM will most likely be called upon to resign.

Sharons Likud opponents claim he will gain nothing in exchange for leaving Gaza, except for increased terrorism. Apparently the US will offer only a partial commitment over the non-return of Palestinian refugees and some sort of statement will be worked out declaring that a permanent status solution does not mean an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. On the surface Israel gains little.

But the real issue is Negev development, to the tune of $5 billion. The timing of the withdrawal from Gaza is tactical, since it is well known that Israel does not and cannot control the Strip, nor is there any desire to award Israeli citizenship to 1.4 million Gazan Arabs. On the other hand, the Negev makes up over half of Israels land mass but only contains approximately 10% of its population. Huge expanses of the northern and western Negev are excellent for agriculture and only await the water infrastructure necessary to fulfill Ben Gurions vision of the Negev as the future of the Jewish State. This includes desalinization and recycling plants on the coast piping water southwards and drilling in the central Negev for aquifers said to be several times larger than the Sea of Galilee. Further dam projects would have the funding necessary to catch winter floodwaters before they race out to sea.

As for metropolitan and industrial development, the Negev offers the last true opportunities. No more appreciable space exists in the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa metropolitan areas. The Negev capital of Beersheva offers enormous possibilities as Israels new industrial heartland and has the potential of becoming the nations largest city. But careful urban planning and infrastructure are badly needed. Massive American aid would serve the strategic goal of national development in Israels most neglected region and lead the way into the 21st century.

To envision the Negev with hi tech industries and agro-parks would be realization of the Zionist dream and future, much more than attempting to hold on to the Gaza Strip with its massive security problems and crushing Arab population burden. Sharon knows Israels future is in the Negev and not in Gaza.

One only hopes that the average Likud party member understands this as well, and will support the PM in the referendum to disengage from Gaza.