Israel’s final solution for Gaza

Manal Lotfy in London , Thursday 9 May 2024

Controlling the Palestinian side of Rafah and the suspension of work on the pier on the Gaza coast might be connected.

Israel s final solution for Gaza
Israeli tanks entering the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip (photo: AFP)

 

Is there a correlation between the US halting the construction of the temporary sea pier along Gaza’s coast and Israel taking control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt?

Work on the temporary pier being constructed by the US on the coast of Gaza has been halted this week, yet the controversy surrounding it persists. The US Central Command cited adverse weather conditions as the reason for the pause, but no specific date has been provided for the resumption of work on the pier.

The uncertainty surrounding the purpose of the temporary pier has escalated significantly in recent days after an announcement by the White House that it is exploring avenues to facilitate the reception of Palestinian refugees from Gaza who have family connections in America for humanitarian reasons.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that the administration is evaluating policy proposals aimed at supporting Palestinians who are relatives of American citizens. However, specific procedures are yet to be unveiled.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin revealed that armed US forces will be stationed on the temporary pier as part of its operation, and they may engage in military confrontations if subjected to armed attacks in Gaza. Austin was at a congressional session addressing questions regarding the presence of American forces on the temporary pier and whether that could amount to “boots on the ground” in Gaza.

The construction of the temporary pier will come at a staggering cost of over $320 million, and there are lingering questions and controversies surrounding its management and security.

During the hearing, Senator Roger Wicker expressed concerns over the hefty price tag borne by American taxpayers, particularly considering that the pier’s operation is slated for a mere 90 days.

At the same time, the British government still will neither confirm nor deny the deployment of British forces on the ground in Gaza nor provide any specifics regarding a potential role for British forces in overseeing aid distribution there.

According to the BBC, British troops are being considered for deployment on the ground in Gaza to facilitate aid delivery through the new sea route. Senior US military officials stated that American troops would not set foot on Gaza’s shores. Instead, US soldiers and sailors will reside aboard naval vessels while delivery of aid ashore will be handled by a “third party”.

This third party is still mysterious, but expectations are that Britain and the United Arab Emirates will play a role in distributing aid on the ground.

The UK is reportedly contemplating assigning the task to British troops when the aid corridor becomes operational. However, Whitehall sources stress that no definitive decision has been reached, and the issue has not yet reached the prime minister’s desk. Nevertheless, Britain has been actively involved in planning the pier.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps also reiterated the UK’s prominent role in coordinating support efforts with the US and other international allies. If British forces are engaged, they will unload trucks from landing craft onto the temporary causeway and deliver aid to a secure distribution area onshore.

Last March US President Joe Biden unveiled the proposal to construct a “temporary pier” along the Mediterranean coast of Gaza aimed at establishing a vital maritime channel for aid to Gaza. The European Union, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US contributed to the project in various capacities.

According to the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, the maritime corridor concept originated from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who purportedly broached the idea to Biden in October 2023 and revisited it during discussions with the US president in January.

The extent of Israel’s involvement in managing the temporary pier remains somewhat ambiguous. Initially, Biden stated that Israel would oversee the security of the pier. However, subsequent American sources indicated that Israel would not be responsible for pier security. Instead, they clarified that Israel’s role would solely involve inspecting and approving goods destined for Gaza through the pier.

The lack of a clear, comprehensive vision or precise details regarding the role of this temporary pier raises significant doubts about its objectives. When the White House announced the temporary pier project, the US administration faced harsh ridicule and criticism from international humanitarian organisations.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) labelled it a stark diversion from the fundamental issue of Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate military actions and the punitive blockade. “This isn’t merely a logistical challenge; it’s fundamentally a political issue,” the group emphasised. “The essential provisions of food, water, and medical supplies urgently required by the people in Gaza are readily available just across the border.”

Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, also sharply criticised what he called “absurd” US proposals for delivering aid to Gaza, whether through airdrops or the establishment of a temporary port. “From humanitarian, international, and human rights standpoints, it is absurd in a profoundly cynical manner,” he remarked.

The floating causeway, expected to span five hundred metres, would be securely anchored into the sand. This new maritime corridor, dubbed the Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore (JLOTS) operation, aims to deliver up to 150 trucks of aid per day once fully operational.

Aid shipments from Cyprus would be transferred onto the pier before being loaded onto trucks and smaller landing craft. It is a lengthy, intricate, and logistically challenging process that yields only a limited amount of humanitarian aid compared to land routes.

European diplomatic sources suggest that the Biden administration may have conceded to Israel’s proposal to establish a temporary naval pier on the coast of Gaza in exchange for Israel’s pledge not to launch a large-scale attack on Rafah or take unilateral actions without coordination with the United States.

There are concerns that the suspension of work on the temporary pier could be linked to the breakdown of coordination between the United States and Israel, and the growing differences between them. This might have prompted Washington to halt construction as a means of pressuring Tel Aviv.

Washington has consistently voiced its opposition to a major military operation in Rafah without guarantees to protect civilians. However, Netanyahu insists on launching an offensive under the pretext of eliminating the remaining Hamas fighters.

And while the United States advocates for a ceasefire leading to a political resolution, the Israeli government remains steadfast in its desire to attack Rafah, even in the event of a ceasefire agreement and a prisoner exchange.

Despite attempts to bridge the gap between the United States and Israel, it appears that the divide is widening significantly as the conflict reaches critical stages. The Israeli objective behind the temporary pier is to create conditions that would effectively strangle the Gaza Strip by controlling and closing the main land crossings, particularly the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.

Some analysts speculate that this move could be a strategic manoeuvre aimed at marginalising Egypt as a link between the Gaza Strip and the international community. This could potentially diminish the coastal enclave’s economic and political dependence on Egypt, particularly through the Egyptian-administered Rafah crossing, which serves as the primary entry and exit point for most of Gaza’s population.

Such a strategy would ostensibly strengthen Israel’s control over the Gaza Strip without relying on Egyptian cooperation, irrespective of its past reliability. It appears that the primary objective of the temporary pier, a long-standing Israeli ambition, is to reinforce the complete blockade around Gaza and sever the Strip’s connections with the outside world.

Also a significant aim for Israel is to lay the groundwork for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by turning the Gaza Strip into an unlivable place, which leaves many Palestinians no choice but to seek refuge in other countries.

Most critically, the pier, and the possible closure of all crossings and land roads between Gaza and the West Bank, pose a significant risk of geographical, demographic and political separation between Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and East Jerusalem, effectively undermining the prospects for a territorially contiguous Palestinian state.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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