While much of the world condemned the American embassy's shift from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israelis have been riveted by another possible Tel Aviv-Jerusalem disaster in the making: the new high speed train line is so unsafe that its much anticipated inaugural run has been delayed repeatedly.
Yet the timing of America's diplomatic gambles and Israel's infrastructure fiasco may pose that rare conjunction of events needed to build a bridge — a safe one let us hope — between belligerent "peace partners," and to restore America to respected mediator status throughout the Middle East while alleviating the bleak situation facing the region’s most beleaguered travelers.
If there is one positive that we can take from our ongoing wars in Gaza, then it is that Hamas operatives possess a particular skill that would be a boon to Israel. They know how to build and maintain tunnels — a great maze of tunnels.
In little more than a decade, they have constructed thousands of tunnels in an area that is less than half the size of New York City, only three times the size of Jerusalem. But the need for cross-border tunnels has waned since Israel began installing an underground border wall and detection technologies have rendered terror tunnels less effective. Hamas is looking for new business. And U.S. President Donald Trump is eager to broker a deal.
What if we could bring in a cadre of these two-legged burrowers to consult on the underground portions of the high-speed rail project? Here is the ready-made, skilled labor that we need to complete the job and ensure its safety. Bring them in as guest workers. Offer everything from 'green cards' (Hamas colors: a nice touch) to private planes. Such gestures would have the added benefit of curtailing their escalating attempts to penetrate the country’s porous border.
Say this about Hamas: they are the world's poster child for underground survival. And no workers are more cost-effective. Hard cash would trickle back to Gaza too and jumpstart an economy decimated by an unemployment rate over 40% — some ten times greater than Israel’s — and a self-inflicted infrastructure disaster.
Moreover, the Arab world would see that we are serious about talking with terrorists. It could open other doors to co-existence. Our chemical cousins in Hezbollah can be brought on board to install a state-of-the-art tunnel ventilation system. Beyond the rail project, this could lead to our inviting the Iranians to beef up our Dimona nuclear facility and make it impervious to attack, or our hiring private contractors from Al-Qaeda and ISIS as park rangers and tour guides (no one knows caves, mountainous terrain, and deserts better than they do).
Further, the more jobs we offer Hamas, the more quickly Gaza will be rebuilt from the last war, giving Israeli jets welcome new targets during the next incursion, thereby lessening the possibility of a ground invasion. Many lives will be saved.
Even the EU and the Arab League would have to admit that the U.S. is anything but a passive peace broker. President Trump can score big foreign policy points and Israel will gain greater stature. Combatants in conflicts around the globe will vie for American and Israeli contracts. Surely we can woo the Egyptians, those ancient admirers of massive public works projects, whose firsthand views of Gaza's tunnels make them the obvious choice to host the negotiations.
Think of the photo ops too: the celebrities who will venture down into the new train tunnels to pose with Hamas workers. BDS-loving musicians would now reverse course and flock to Tel Aviv’s underground to perform. Great goodwill will be restored.
Just to play it safe though, the Transportation Ministry had better install surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and bomb-sniffing dogs. And make sure to add a recording for the uninitiated passenger: "If you see an unattended backpack — take the bus."
A native of Brooklyn now living in Jerusalem, Steven Sher is the author of 15 books. His poetry and prose have appeared in hundreds of publications worldwide. He has also worked as an editor/journalist/media consultant and taught at many universities/writing workshops since the 1970s. More can be learned at his website.