For all the money that the Cairo donor conference raised to help rebuild Gaza, much of the reconstruction depends on whether Israel will allow it.
At the recent Gaza donors conference in Cairo, the Palestinians were seeking $4 billion. They got $5.4 billion. The donors helping to reconstruct Gaza after Israel’s summer, 50-day onslaught thus outdid themselves by nearly $1.5 billion. But beware of donor conferences. Their history is strewn with pledges and promises and emotional, eloquent speeches but so many times they fall short of the money they claim they will pay.
(The US will certainly pay the $212 million it committed to but that’s only because it’s not American money; ironically it’s Israeli cash which is going to Palestinians. What the US is donating to the Palestinians is actually the earnings that US arms firms made from Israel’s savage attack on Gaza. Though Israel has built up an indigenous army industry, some of the weapons and equipment used against the Palestinians this summer, notably Iron Dome, had “Made in USA” stamped on them).
Besides donors breaking their promises, so much depends on the willingness of the Israelis to permit the entry of the millions of tons of cement, structural steel and bricks that are necessary to rebuild Gaza. While there must be unfettered access to Gaza for the construction shipments, all the indications are that Israel will block these imports, at least to the extent that the reconstruction process will be severely hindered and the lives of tens of thousands of the citizens of Gaza will continue in misery. The bricks and mortar for the reconstruction of shattered Gaza must be delivered, however, the Netanyahu government will be attaching all types of conditions to any cross-border shipments of construction materials.
Israel, which has enforced a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2006, can block the entry of construction materials or funds into the Palestinian territory. And it will do just that, not even bothering to hide its intentions, as we listened to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, shortly after the conference, say that rebuilding efforts would not go forward without Israel’s consent.
Israel’s biggest concern is aid going to Hamas, insisting on guarantees it will not be diverted to military ends by Hamas, against which it fought such a devastating war in July and August. However, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas has pretty much solved that problem after pledging transparency in the way the funds will be used, in full coordination with UN agencies, donor countries and international financial institutions.
So basically Israel has no excuse if it wants to block aid to Gaza, but of course excuses abound elsewhere. Here’s one: Israel was not invited to the conference, so it won’t cooperate in Gaza’s rebuilding. The way Israel sees it, because the conference discussed issues that affected Israel, then Tel Aviv had to be there; at a time when the Israeli prime minister was telling the UN General Assembly that he wanted to cooperate with the Arab states to advance the peace process with the Palestinians, Israel had a clear interest in attending this donors conference; Israel’s absence sent the international community the message that Israel was willing to quietly accept being excluded.
Israel was excluded from the rehabilitation donor conference in Cairo simply because the participating countries did not want the Jewish state represented there, and naturally Egypt wanted the conference to succeed. Many Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of whom are financing a large chunk of the rebuilding, would have cancelled if Israel were to have attended.
And if Israel had come, the Palestinians would not have. Last month, Abbas told the UN General Assembly that Israel had carried out “genocide” in Gaza and called for the prosecution of senior Israeli officials for war crimes. It is consequentially far-fetched that the Palestinians could have sat at the same table with Israelis at a conference on repairing damage caused by the Israeli military.
How, in fact, do you invite to a donor conference a country that was responsible for flattening another to a pulp, so much so that the latter had to call for donor aid, then announces it will obstruct reconstruction? And why in the world would that same aggressor country want to be invited? For the applause?
Palestinians and those helping them are paying the price of Israel’s blitzkrieg which murdered 2,145 Palestinians, hundreds of whom were children and half of whom were not even Hamas fighters. That pogrom still reverberates through a shocked international community. That is why so many countries reached deeper than expected into their pocketbooks. But the money by itself is clearly not enough.
The donors and others would like to believe that this Israeli-Palestinian war is the last, and that to prevent another such clash, a peace deal that creates a Palestinian state must soon evolve. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how the US, which led an intensive peace effort that collapsed in April, can achieve a renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Yes, we will hear Secretary Kerry reaffirm the commitment of the United States to helping the parties achieve a negotiated two-state solution and its willingness to re-engage in the negotiations and help facilitate successful negotiations. But Kerry does not offer any specifics, so the chances of restarting the peace process soon appear slim.
Which is why Abbas is in the process of submitting to the UN Security Council a resolution saying Israel must withdraw from the West Bank within two years, determined as he is to introduce this unilateral measure at the United Nations, relegating at least a bit, the role of the Americans who insist on bilateral talks but are not offering a worthy alternative after the negotiations collapsed.
Despite the largesse of the donors in the Gaza effort, they were at the same time reticent. It’s only natural that donors will not open their wallets very wide, given the lack of progress toward resolving the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the risk that hostilities could erupt again, destroying whatever has been rebuilt. It’s fair to say there are serious questions being raised by the donors, that unless the cycle is broken, they will be back here doing the same thing again in a year or two.
A peace agreement could allay much of the donors’ fears but in the absence of one, a new unity government which will assume control in Hamas-dominated Gaza could make wealthy donor governments less wary of providing reconstruction funds.
As for Egypt, it, too, used the conference to launch some reconstruction of its own, but of a different kind – one of restoring a reputation. The conference was the biggest international gathering in Egypt since the upheaval of the January 2011 revolution which turned the country topsy-turvy, in many cases not for the better. Egypt sought to show it had largely returned to normal since those frenetic days of three years ago. That Cairo hosted such a gathering — Abbas, Kerry, Ban Ki-moon, Ashton and Mogherini — after brokering the summer ceasefire, a feat not even Washington could perform, demonstrates it still has political clout and star power. Cairo would like to continue progressing.
It’s not just the Palestinians who need to rebuild.
Alaa Abdel-Ghani is an affiliate professor, Faculty of Journalism, American University in Cairo.