Israeli foreign minister proposes development plan for Gaza

Yair Lapid says Israel wants to improve living conditions of Palestinians

Palestinian students look at a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes near their damaged school in Gaza City May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, on Sunday proposed a plan to improve living conditions in Gaza in exchange for calm from the enclave's Hamas rulers, aiming to solve "never-ending rounds of violence".

Mr Lapid said the plan, which includes infrastructure and employment benefits, was to show Palestinians in the Israeli-blockaded enclave that Hamas's campaign of violence is "why they live in conditions of poverty, scarcity, violence and high unemployment, without hope".

He said he was not calling for negotiations with Hamas, because "Israel doesn't speak to terror organisations who want to destroy us".

Mr Lapid, due to take over as premier in two years as part of a rotation agreement, said his plan was not yet official policy in Israel's eight-party coalition government but it had support from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

In the first stage of the plan, the infrastructure in Gaza – an impoverished territory of two million people – would receive a much-needed upgrade, he told the Reichman University in Herzliya.

"The electricity system will be repaired, gas will be connected, a water desalination plan will be built, significant improvements to the healthcare system and a rebuilding of housing and transport infrastructure will take place," Mr Lapid said.

"In exchange, Hamas will commit to long-term quiet."

He said the international community would play a role in the process, especially Egypt, to Gaza's south.

"It won't happen without the support and involvement of our Egyptian partners and without their ability to talk to everyone involved," Mr Lapid said. "Any breach by Hamas will stop the process or set it back."

If the first stage went smoothly, an artificial island would be created off the Gazan coast that would allow a port to be built, and a transport link between Gaza and the West Bank would be established.

Mr Lapid said he had presented the plan to "partners in the Arab world", and to the US, Russia and the EU.

"There is still work to do," he said. "We're still on the drawing board, but if this plan has a chance to succeed and gains widespread support, I'll propose it to the government as the official position."

Hours later, the Israeli army said it intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza towards southern Israel, the third incident in as many days.

Israel and Hamas fought their last full-scale war in May, the fourth since 2008. The conflict ended in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in late May that Israeli air strikes on the territory had resulted in "the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure".

Updated: September 12, 2021, 9:48 PM