Yair Lapid outlines ‘economy for security’ plan to stop Hamas terror in Gaza

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid laid out his detailed plan to defeat Hamas in the Gaza Strip through economic and diplomatic means in an address to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism Conference at Reichman University on Sunday.

“We need to start a large, multiyear process of economy for security,” he said.

Lapid rejected the dichotomy that Israel can either reconquer Gaza or continue to engage in periodic rounds of war against Hamas and other terrorist groups in the coastal enclave that Israel evacuated in 2005.

“Those are two bad options,” he said. “That’s not a reality we can accept.”

Instead, Israel should advance the “economy for security” formulation without negotiating with Hamas, he added. “Israel doesn’t speak to terrorist organizations who want to destroy us,” which puts pressure on the group that controls Gaza.

“We need to tell Gazans at every opportunity: Hamas is leading you to ruin,” Lapid said. “No one will come and invest real money, and no one will try to build an economy in a place from where Hamas fires and that Israel strikes on a regular basis.”

An Israeli plan to improve life in Gaza if Hamas lays down its arms is a way to put pressure on Hamas and end the “absurd situation” in which an antisemitic terrorist organization attacks Israeli civilians and Israel is blamed for it, he said.

That process will take years and will be backed up by the IDF’s might, Lapid said.

“Our position of strength allows us to initiate instead of sitting and waiting for the next round,” he said.

The foreign minister also vowed that Israel bringing back the soldiers and civilians held in Hamas captivity is part of his plan, which has two stages.

First would come the humanitarian rebuilding of Gaza in exchange for an effort, coordinated with the international community, to stop Hamas’s military build-up.

“The electricity system will be repaired, gas will be connected, a water desalination plant will be built, significant improvements to the healthcare system and a rebuilding of housing and transportation infrastructure will take place,” Lapid said. “In exchange, Hamas will commit to long-term quiet.”

The international community would have to use its influence to ensure that quiet and stop Hamas from arming itself, including preventing smuggling and an oversight mechanism to stop humanitarian funds from getting to the terrorist group that threatens Israeli civilians.

A PALESTINIAN sits near the rubble of a store destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City last month (MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS).

Without that oversight, Israel will not allow funds to be invested in Gaza.

During this stage, Israel would maintain control of electricity and water in Gaza. Only long-term positive results would yield energy independence.

The Palestinian Authority would go back to being responsible for crossings into Gaza, except for Rafah, which is controlled by Egypt. Egyptian support is critical for the process, Lapid said.

This first stage would have precise benchmarks within a set time frame. Should Hamas not meet those benchmarks, the process would be set back.

“The security formula during the first stage is simple, and Prime Minister [Naftali] Bennett has already outlined it: In exchange for quiet, we are willing to give more than before,” Lapid said. “If the quiet is breached, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations need to know that the response will be harsher than before.”

If the first stage is a success, the second stage will allow a transformative change in the economy of Gaza, including the construction of an artificial island port off the coast and a transportation link with the West Bank.

The second stage would promote economic projects with Israel, Egypt and the PA, including industrial zones near the Erez crossing, with international investment from the EU, US, the IMF, the World Bank and the UAE. The PA would be responsible for the civil management of the Gaza Strip.

Lapid said his plan would “strengthen the Palestinian Authority… with an aim to achieve a two-state solution. The political conditions – in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority – don’t allow for diplomatic progress at the moment. But in Gaza, we can, and we should, act now.”

Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz “know this position and support the principle that stands behind it,” Lapid said, adding that he had discussed the plan with leaders in Egypt and the Gulf, as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the EU.

Asked if Bennett, who has always opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state, supports the principles of a plan to strengthen the PA toward a two-state solution, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “Bennett agrees with the economic strengthening of the Palestinian population. This has been his stance for years. As defense minister, he authorized the Defense Ministry to examine the island idea proposed by [former finance minister] Israel Katz.”