TEL AVIV – A $5 billion man-made island with a seaport, hotels, and airport off the coast of Gaza could soon become a reality, Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz said Monday.
The proposal, which is backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will provide the Gaza Strip access to the rest of the world via a three-mile bridge stretching between the Gaza Strip and an artificial island.
Katz said that Israel has no issue with easing the blockade on Gaza if its security requirements are met. Hamas’ conditions for a truce include reopening the Yasser Arafat Airport that Israel destroyed during the Second Intifada and the construction of a larger seaport than the one currently in existence.
However, according to Katz, complying with Hamas’ demands in Gaza territory puts Israel at risk because the Islamist group is likely to misdirect the funds for construction to terrorism as it has done countless times before.
“I do not think it is right to lock up two million people without any connection to the world,” Katz said. “Israel has no interest to make life harder for the population there. But because of security concerns we can’t build an airport or seaport in Gaza.”
But without a solution, Katz said, Israel will have to increase the amount of water, electricity, food, and other goods it provides for Gaza. Currently, about 800 truckloads of goods enter Gaza daily from Israel.
Instead, the alternative is to build the offshore island that would be run by Palestinians and funded by international parties. Israel would allow foreign entities to enter its waters for the purpose of construction. The island would be about four square miles and, in addition to the two main ports, would have a smaller port for yachts and some hotels.
“And this would be just the beginning,’’ Katz said. “We would create electricity, desalination plants. This island will be an island of initiatives of all kinds.”
While Katz admits that the solution would not necessarily stop Hamas’ terror activities, including firing rockets into Israel and smuggling weapons, but it may impact the fundamentalism of Gaza’s population by providing them with a better quality of living and the possibility to travel overseas without Israel’s involvement.
Mokhamir Abu Sa’da, a professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told the Washington Post, “Opening a seaport and airport would help Gaza to end the siege, people could travel, goods could be exported and easily imported from abroad.”