Something strange happened last week. Major news outlets reporting on Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, heralding a $4 billion investment plan for the West Bank, omitted an important fact in their coverage: the package is actually meant to benefit both parts of the Palestinian territory, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Kerry stated that plainly in his speech, reflecting a welcome change in Israeli and U.S. policy that now at least nominally recognizes the importance of economic development in Gaza.
The days of “economic warfare” in the Strip, which led to limits on the entrance of goods to Gaza, including everything from children’s toys to inputs for the industrial sector, are ostensibly behind us. Since 2010, the Israeli prime minister and Israeli military officials themselves have articulated Israel’s intention to allow economic development and to distinguish between Hamas, which rules the Strip, and Gaza's 1.7 million residents, more than half of whom are children. Clearly much more remains to be done, and practice is lagging too far behind the rhetoric. Sweeping restrictions still block access for goods to Gaza’s main markets in the West Bank and Israel and prevent people from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank. These restrictions could be lifted today and would begin to revive the economy even before a dime of that $4 billion investment starts to come in.
Obviously money alone can’t solve the conflict, but Kerry seems to understand that investment in individuals, such as the young girls he met in Gaza on his visit there four years ago, can and must take place today. In fact, on a tiny scale, economic development for Gaza is already happening, with the full support of the Israeli government, in pilot projects to send agricultural export to Europe, to cite just one example.
Even though Gaza wasn’t mentioned in most major coverage of Kerry’s remarks, recent comments by Israeli leaders—and the scope of the investment package itself—indicate that the United States and Israel have begun to recognize that Gaza’s residents are also key to a better, more stable future in the region. The plan’s holistic approach to boosting the economy throughout the Palestinian territory with the funds that might be amassed is thus more significant than it might seem at first glance.
The next logical step is for the United States to ask Israel to remove the travel restrictions whose harmful effects even $4 billion worth of investment cannot overcome.