Officials of Israel and the Islamic Hamas movement have been recently talking about the possibilities of constructing a water passage that links the Gaza Strip and Cyprus as one option to ease the mounting humanitarian crisis gripping the coastal enclave.
However, chances for actually building a seaport in Gaza in the near future are very slim, observers say.
No one knows where the much-talked-about seaport will be located, but the Gaza Wharf has witnessed several international attempts to defy a siege imposed by Israel.
The Israelis have foiled all such attempts, including one in May 2010, when the Israeli naval commandos stormed a Turkish aid flotilla, killing nine activists.
Turkish and Israeli officials recently talked about restoring political and economic ties between the two countries, which were broken following the flotilla attack, and one of Turkey’s conditions is to end the Gaza siege.
Khalil al-Hayyah, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza who has been tracking progress in the talks between Israel and Turkey, said “lifting the Gaza siege would never happen without agreeing on constructing a seaport for the Gaza Strip to link the territory with the entire world.”
FEARS SEAPORT WOULD PERPECTUATE PALESTINE SPLIT
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Fatah Party Central Committee warned on Monday of Israel’s plan to isolate the Gaza Strip from the entire occupied Palestinian territories.
Fatah accused Israel of using various names such as a floating seaport or a sea passage to keep the Palestinian territories in two parts: the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Hani Habib, a Gaza political analyst, told Xinhua that the Israeli terms for constructing a seaport in Gaza “are clearly showing that Israel is determined to keep the internal Palestinian split for ages and to create a new situation for Gaza that keeps it independent and totally isolated.”
Economic experts in Gaza said that construction of a seaport in the strip will certainly help revive its economy, creating thousands of jobs during the first year of operation.
Omer Sha’ban, one Gaza economist, told Xinhua that the seaport for Gaza will be the sole sea gate for the establishment of the future Palestinian state once the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
“A seaport is important not only for the Gaza Strip, but also for the West Bank, which basically depends on the Israeli seaports for export and import,” said Sha’ban.
He said constructing and operating a seaport in Gaza “would create 50,000 job opportunities,” resulting in a big jump in the Palestinian economy as a whole and in development in human resources and industry in particular in the Palestinian territories.
The seaport, on the Mediterranean and with access to Suez Canal, would link Gaza with Europe, America, Asia and beyond, he said.
Building a seaport for the Gaza Strip was one condition put forward by Hamas in Egyptian-borkered talks in Cairo to end hostilities following a large-scale military offensive by Israel against Hamas-led militants in the summer of 2014.
According to the August 2014 agreement, Israel and Hamas were to hold indirect talks one month after the ceasefire to discuss issues like constructing a seaport for the Gaza Strip and operating Gaza airport.
The two sides, however, have never met again after that.
The project of constructing a seaport and an airport for the Gaza Strip was part of Oslo Accords that Israel signed with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993.
The airport was built and operated from 1998 until 2000, the year the second Intifada, or Palestinian Uprising, broke out. The radar station and control tower were destroyed by Israeli Air Force in 2001.
The seaport project did start, in July 2000, but stopped soon due to obstruction of the supply of construction materials, and destruction by the Israeli army in late 2000, also due to the Intifada.
In the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, reached after Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Israel promised international donors that it will not interfere with operation of the port, but construction never resumed.
SWEET DREAM, BITTER REALITY
Talk of building a seaport has raised expectations that the misery suffered by residents in the enclave might ease after a blockade of nearly 10 years.
“Constructing a seaport for the Palestinians is a sweet dream,” said 65-year-old Abu Sallah Sa’ed, who was sitting on the beach near Gaza Wharf.
“Once it comes true, it will end the crisis and all our daily problems,” he said. “No one wants war. Poverty is the enemy of mankind.”
“A better life without siege is the best guarantee of peace for all our children,” Sa’ed said.
Hussein Rajab, who sells hot drinks at Gaza Wharf, is skeptical.
“I don’t think that one day, there will be a seaport for Gaza,” said the 42-year-old vendor, who peddles coffee and tea from a push cart. “We always dream of having a seaport and see big ships coming and leaving, but this will never happen.”
The ongoing Israeli blockade has thrown the densely populated enclave into humanitarian crises, with widespread poverty and unemployment.
International aid organizations have warned of disasters and collapse in the near future if the situation continues in Gaza.
Abu Jamal Subeih, a Gaza fisherman, was pessimistic that the Palestinians’ lot will improve any time soon.
“I rule out the possibility that Israel would accept the construction of a seaport for Gaza,” he said. “They have been doing this against us for so many years, therefore I don’t believe Israel would let us having our own seaport to connect with the outside world.”