Donors at an international conference Sunday promised $2.7 billion to rebuild the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, but all of the key participants said their efforts would be futile without a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
US-mediated talks broke down this summer before the 50-day war between Hamas and Israel began — the third since 2008 — and it remains unclear how peace can come about.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende, who co-chaired the one-day meeting with Egypt, said pledges of $5.4 billion have been made, but that only half of that money would be “dedicated” to the reconstruction of the coastal strip.
Brende did not say what the other half of the funds would be spent on. Other delegates have spoken of budgetary support, boosting economic activity, emergency relief and other projects.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials acknowledged Sunday that Israel failed to link international assistance for the rehabilitation of Gaza after the summer’s war to its central demand that Hamas disarm, as delegates representing some 50 nations and 20 regional and international organizations pledged billions to rebuild the Palestinian enclave.
An Israeli official was quoted by Channel 2 admitting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that Hamas give up its arms — endorsed in principle by the US, EU and others at the end of the 50-day conflict — had not prevailed as a condition for overseas funding to rehabilitate Gaza. The funding for reconstruction, the official said, would flow so long as the ceasefire was maintained. Further development of Gaza after such reconstruction, the official said, would be contingent on the demilitarization of the Strip.
Israeli officials noted that a mechanism had been agreed, with UN involvement, to ensure that international funding not be diverted to finance the rebuilding of Hamas’s military capabilities. But sources quoted by Channel 10 expressed concern that such a mechanism would not hold firm, and the same TV report quoted sources in Gaza as saying there was no practical way to control how such money would be spent. The head of the Israeli Air Force’s Air Defense Command told The Times of Israel last week that Hamas has resumed rocket manufacturing in Gaza.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier Sunday that Gaza reconstruction efforts would need the consent of Israel, which was not invited to the international conference in Cairo. “Gaza cannot be rebuilt without the cooperation and participation of Israel,” he said.
Other officials in Jerusalem variously claimed that Israel was not invited because it was not donating any funds, and that Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had opted to not extend an invitation because Israel’s presence could have prompted other states to stay away.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni blamed the policies of Netanyahu for the fact that Israel was sidelined. “Israel is not invited. Israel is not present,” she lamented, and thus Israel is unable “to exert influence over issues that are of importance to our future.”
“It could be different,” Livni wrote in a Facebook post. “Cooperation with regional states in the areas of security, economy and diplomacy is possible — but only if we initiate a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.” In a dig at Netanyahu, who has spoken often in recent weeks about new “opportunities” for regional cooperation, she said no such cooperation was possible in the absence of a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Neither Hamas nor the terror group Islamic Jihad were invited to the Cairo conference. Hamas TV on Sunday aired footage of devastation in the Strip, including film of a building ostensibly collapsing this weekend in the heavily hit Shejaiya neighborhood. “If the reconstruction process means a new blockade,” an unidentified Gaza resident warned, reading from a prepared statement, “the people will rise and attain their rights by themselves.” A Hamas official also declared in a televised address that “Israel’s demise is closer than you think.”
At the conference, Qatar pledged $1 billion toward the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, once again using its vast wealth to reinforce its role as a regional player. Gulf Arab rival the United Arab Emirates promised $200 million.
The pledges followed US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier announcing immediate American assistance of $212 million. The European Union pledged €450 million ($568 million), while Turkey, which has been playing a growing role in the Middle East in recent years, said it would donate $200 million.
In all, the donor countries pledged $5.4 billion for Gaza, according to conference co-host Norway, $1.4 billion more than the $4 billion that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said Gaza would need to rebuild.
Organizers of the Cairo conference hope the pledges will be paid over a period of three years to aid reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, which borders Israel and Egypt. Both countries have blockaded Gaza since Hamas took power there in 2007, to prevent the terror group importing more weaponry.
Donors plan to funnel the aid through Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, and aim to bypass Hamas. However, Abbas and Hamas recently formed a national unity government which held its first Cabinet meeting in Gaza last week.
The Western-backed Abbas, speaking to delegates, said the latest Gaza war caused “tragedies that are difficult to be described by words… Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble.” The 50-day war was the third between Hamas and Israel since 2008.
“The (Palestinian) government will carry out the reconstruction plan with full responsibility and transparency in coordination with the UN, the donors, international financial institutions, civil society and the private sector,” Abbas said.
Leading participants said the reconstruction of Gaza cannot be carried out in isolation from efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks in search for a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement.
“We must not lose sight of the root causes of the recent hostilities: A restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who later announced in a news conference that he planned to visit Israel, Gaza and the West Bank on Tuesday.
“I call on all parties to come together to chart a clear course toward a just and final peace,” Ban said. “Going back to the status quo is not an option; this is the moment for transformational change.”
The latest conflict in Gaza was the most ruinous of the three wars, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians — mostly civilians, the UN says. Another 11,000 were wounded, and some 100,000 people remain homeless. Israel says some 1,000 of the fatalities were Hamas and other gunmen, and blames Hamas for all civilian casualties, arguing that it attacked Israel from within residential areas. Hamas and other terror groups fired over 4,500 rockets and other projectiles at Israel, and staged several attacks through cross-border tunnels. Seventy-two Israelis were killed.
Kerry said Gazans “need our help desperately — not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now.” He said the new US money, which nearly doubles American aid to the Palestinians this year, would go to security, economic development, food and medicine, shelter and water and sanitation projects.
El-Sissi, the Egyptian president, whose government negotiated the ceasefire that ended the most recent war, said the reconstruction effort hinged on a “permanent calm” between Hamas and Israel, and required the exercise of “full authority” by the Palestinian Authority led by Abbas.