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October 16, 2014
A number of countries came together last Sunday to pledge funding for yet another round of reconstruction for the Gaza Strip. The amount raised which equaled USD 5.4 billion, exceeded the initial request by the Palestinian government. Yet few in the region have expressed optimism about the real impact that the aid will have on the Gaza economy. The fear is that without a real long-term solution to the ongoing disputes between the Israelis and the Palestinians, any rebuilding will more likely become fodder for the next Israeli bombing campaign against Hamas. There is also a sense that more than money, what the Palestinians in Gaza need is an end to the embargo that has been stifling their economy and their lives for so long.
Reflecting on a series of positive developments for the Palestinians during the last couple of weeks, Jordan Times’ Daoud Kuttab expresses some restrained optimism about the prospects for Gaza, while also cautioning that none of it will mean much unless Israel also takes positive steps: “After the collapse of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, in April, the July war on Gaza, the August drowning of hundreds trying to emigrate to Europe and the September war of words between their two major factions, Palestinians welcomed this week a series of unexpectedly good news....While this series of good news is welcomed, one cannot but look for possible landmines in every one of them. The unity government’s meeting in Gaza was very short; the administration has yet to show real control or ability to take difficult decisions as long as Hamas controls security. The British parliament’s decision will help greatly in seeking further recognition, but it is not binding on the UK government. And the funds for Gaza are unlikely to be spent properly if the Israelis do not seriously relax the blockade.”
The difficulties facing both the Palestinian government as well as the international community are evident in the comments made by both the Palestinian Prime Minister as well as the head of the UN, both of whom pointed out, according to Maan News that the final endgame would arrive only if the Israelis ended the occupation: “Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah says only half of the money pledged during the donor conference in Cairo will be dedicated to Gaza reconstruction, while the other half will be spent on other Palestinian needs in the coming three years....Speaking at a joint news conference with UN secretary-general Ban Ki Mooon in Ramallah, Hamdallah said the Palestinians' main goal was to end the Israeli occupation.”
The Gulf Today editorial decides to take a positive stance on the developments, noting the desire and the engagement of the international community to rebuilding Gaza: “Israeli brutality has crippled Gaza Strip, but it is heartening to note that the international community stands by Palestinians and well understands the trauma they have been going through in the face of unrelenting aggression by the occupying forces....Now that the pledges have been made, the reconstruction efforts should begin in right earnest. As Ban Ki-moon mentioned, the cycle of building and destroying must end. Donors may be fatigued – but the people of Gaza are bruised and bloody. Enough is enough.”
Unfortunately, as the Jordan Times reminds us, it is unlikely that the effort to rebuild Gaza will be successful unless the prospects for another Israeli military intervention become insignificant. The real rebuilding of Gaza and of the Palestinian Territories in general can only happen if the international community puts more pressure on Israel to sign a peace deal: “Even more important now is the international political will to ensure that there will be no other Israeli wars to destroy Palestinian lives and lands....An infinitely more significant gesture major capitals could make would be to end, once and for all, Israel’s aggression. Money may help rebuild Gaza, but how can the world “compensate” for the loss of innocent life?...Countries the world over have also been working, to various degrees, to the benefit of the Palestinians, but the real significant effort — of imposing permanent peace through the United Nations — has been sadly lacking.”
Similar concerns are expressed by the Oman Tribune editorial staff, who are worried that “rebuild and destroy” cycles will continue to repeat without a real long-term solution to the conflict: “Only time can tell whether various governments, which took part in the meeting, would forget their promises once again. There may be another reason for many nations refusing to part with a major portion of the money they promise. It is possible that they may have realized the futility of funding Gaza reconstruction. Following every major Israeli attack, there has been a donors’ meeting and funds have been raised. But a few years after a major reconstruction work is completed, the Israelis attack and destroy much of what is built with aid money....Aid to rebuild what has been destroyed by the Israelis is not enough to comfort the Palestinians. More important are concrete steps towards a settlement of the conflict.”
Unfortunately, little will change so long as main political actors gain from conflict and instability, which is why The National staff predicts another military conflict sooner or later: “what this series of conflagrations also made clear is that the underlying dynamic has to change: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s domestic approval ratings soared during Operation Protective Edge and only slumped when he agreed to a ceasefire. Similarly, Hamas’s waning popularity shot up when its resistance won concessions – albeit at a terrible cost for Gazans — that years of peaceful negotiations failed to achieve....With both Mr Netanyahu and Hamas having gained from aggression, further conflict seems inescapable.”
It is clear that other actions must be taken beyond financial support. In a recent editorial, the Khaleej Times staff proposes that if the European Union is really interested in the economic and social prosperity of the Palestinians in Gaza, the EU should follow in the footsteps of the UK and Sweden: “The European Union, which has been a major donor, should broaden its scope of engagement in the Middle East and muster courage to recognize the statehood of Palestine. It should take precedence from Sweden, which has announced to recognize Palestine and work for a two-state solution. The onus is on the Arab and Gulf donors’ to prevail over their counterparts from Europe and the United State to commit to a regime of peace, solidarity and development in the region, and its salient features should be to create the state of Palestine and fight the non-state actors such as the ISIS and the like. Only then can the region be free from upheavals. Merely huddling together to raise a few millions dollars for Gaza should not be the ultimate aim.”
Others, like the Saudi Gazette editorial staff for example, have proposed that the financial aid delivery should be delivered by an international reconstruction convoy accompanied by a naval protection force that would challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza: “The bricks and mortar for the reconstruction of shattered Gaza have to be delivered. Here then is an opportunity for Israel to be shown that it can no longer behave as the ruthless Gauleiter of Gaza. An international convoy should be organized to voyage to Gaza, to bring the besieged Palestinians all they require....this reconstruction convoy will need to be protected by international naval forces, including those of the United States. There must no repeat of the 2010 Mavi Marmara outrage when Israel killed peace activists and seized Gaza relief vessels. Any attempt by the Israelis to stop the convoy or interdict the unloading must be met with main force. There could not be better way for the world to demonstrate its disgust at Israel’s savagery in Gaza.”
Giora Eiland, writing for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, has proposed that rather than wait for others to impose their solutions on Israel, the Israeli government should develop a proactive investment and engagement program in Gaza, which would include the building of a seaport: “Therefore, regardless of our absence from the Cairo conference, Israel should show some generosity and agree to expand its economic activity with Gaza, including in terms of electricity, gas and (desalinated) water supplies. Moreover, Israel can agree that a seaport will be built in Gaza in the second stage, but that its construction must depend on the creation of a reliable mechanism for demilitarizing the Strip. It will take years to build a port, its construction will burden Hamas' future desire to fire at Israel and put such an expensive project at risk, and above all – the actual existence of a port is not dangerous. The level of risk is determined by the maritime regime, and that can be agreed on as part of a package deal.”
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