Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Gaza reconstruction commences

International efforts to rebuild Gaza pushed ahead at this week’s donor conference in Cairo, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

In his opening speech at this week’s Gaza Reconstruction Conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “the cycle of building and destroying must end. Donors may be fatigued, but the people of Gaza are bruised and bloody. Enough is enough.”

Expressing his hope that Sunday’s conference would be the last needed for Gaza, he added that it was supposed to “chart a course to a just and final peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Other participants reiterated the same hope by emphasising that the reconstruction of Gaza could not be carried out in isolation from efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian talks in search of a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement.

Adel Al-Adawi, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, said the conference was the right moment for transformational change in order to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The conference had the potential to be a real success as it gathered countries and international organisations that had all agreed on the need to rebuild Gaza and help the Palestinian people, he said.

The presence of a national unity government in Palestine was a further asset for change. “Israel will not have any pretext to block aid to the Palestinians or to present the Palestinians as fragmented groups who cannot agree among themselves,” Al-Adawi told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Masoum Marzouk, a former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister, did not pin high hopes on the conference, however, seeing it as simply a repeat of previous exercises. “The conference tackled the symptoms of the disease, but did not take enough measures to cure or prevent it in the future,” he said.

The end result, he added, was that the Israeli occupation was still in full force, with consecutive Israeli governments since the Oslo Accords in 1993 refraining from implementing any commitments to the Palestinians.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, recently formed a national unity government that held its first cabinet meeting in Gaza earlier this month.

While the national unity government is likely to give Abbas full authority to supervise the rebuilding process and facilitate Palestinian access to the expected aid, there are still other obstacles before the rebuilding of Gaza.

Perhaps the blockade imposed by Israel and the closure of the Rafah crossing present the most important obstacle before the rebuilding. Since Hamas came to power in Gaza, Tel Aviv has severely restricted the import of concrete and other building materials, allegedly for fear that they could be used to build rockets and reinforce cross-border tunnels.

However, Al-Adawi noted that the crossing was open before and was under the supervision of the Ramallah authorities. “I saw no reason why these arrangements could not be re-imposed in the future,” he said.

Israel was not invited to the conference, but Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview with Israel Radio on Sunday that this did not mean that Tel Aviv wanted to prevent the reconstruction of Gaza.

He said that it was important that funds raised in Cairo were not “used to produce weapons or build tunnels in Gaza,” adding that it “was up to the Palestinians” to prevent another Israeli operation in Gaza.

In his opening address to the conference, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called on Israeli citizens and the Israeli government to make peace. “The time has come to end the conflict without further delay and to grant rights and establish justice so that prosperity and security can prevail,” Al-Sisi said.

Obstacles before the rebuilding process include the Israeli occupation of the West Bank which has now lasted nearly half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of progress in the peace negotiations.

US-sponsored Palestinian-Israeli peace talks broke down earlier this year, and Abbas used the conference to warn that the failure to reach a deal posed a serious threat to regional stability.

Given the major obstacles facing the rebuilding process and the establishment of the Palestinian state, Marzouk said he would prefer a solution similar to that espoused in South Africa, when the international community isolated the former apartheid regime and forced its fall in 1994.

This would involve Egypt re-establishing its internal stability and regaining its role and status in the region before taking measures to promote security in the Middle East. “A strong regional power can form a strong wall against Israel and Zionism and pave the way for peace and a two-state solution in Palestine,” he said.

The conference, attended by delegates representing some 50 nations and 20 regional and international organisations, ended with pledges of $5.4 billion for reconstruction, far beyond the $4 billion initially sought by Abbas.

Qatar pledged $1 billion, the EU $568 million, the US $212 million, the United Arab Emirates $200 million and Turkey $200 million.

Marzouk expressed his hope that all the pledges would be transformed into cash for rebuilding Gaza. “Some parties do not abide by their pledges, and others put conditions on their aid. Thus, what might be gathered in the end may not be enough for the rebuilding process,” he said.

However his worst fear was that everything that was rebuilt could in time be destroyed in another Israeli aggression.

“A strong Palestinian government that conducts peace negotiations to reach a just peace is the only real guarantee that what we are about to rebuild and reconstruct is not once again destroyed,” Al-Adawi said.

The one-day conference was held to raise money to rebuild the Gaza Strip after this year’s 51-day war between Hamas and Israel left more than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, dead. Another 11,000 were wounded, and some 100,000 people remain homeless.

The war was the third between Hamas and Israel since 2008. Israel launched the war, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, against Gaza in July, saying that the military operation was aimed at stopping Hamas rocket attacks and destroying a network of tunnels that extended under the border with Israel.

During the nearly two-month war several attempts to reach a ceasefire failed.

On the periphery of the meeting, Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri met with top officials attending the conference including the EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton, British Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and US Secretary of State John Kerry.



Turkey and Qatar’s contribution


HAMAS regional allies Turkey and Qatar are contributing to the rebuilding of Gaza, writes Doaa El-Bey.

Turkey and Qatar, regarded as main regional allies of Hamas, were among the 50 nations and 20 regional and international organisations that attended the Gaza Reconstruction Conference held at the weekend in Cairo, with Qatar pledging $1 billion and Turkey $200 million for the reconstruction of the strip following the conflict with Israel earlier this year. 

One diplomat who preferred not to give his name noted the contradictions in the two countries’ stance. “Qatar, which has recently been using its massive wealth to help Islamist groups including Hamas in Gaza, is now pledging to give the Palestinian Authority a generous amount of money to rebuild Gaza,” he said. “The same could be said of Turkey,” he added.

The organisers of the Conference expressed the hope that the money pledged would be paid over a period of three years to the Palestinian Authority (PA) which has promised to conduct the rebuilding process with exemplary transparency.

It had drawn up a broad reconstruction plan and submitted this to all the invited state delegations before the conference in order to help them determine the level of their contribution.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah announced during the one-day conference held in Egypt on Sunday that his country would give $1 billion to help rebuild Gaza. He also criticised the international silence that had surrounded Gaza’s destruction.

“While the Palestinian people need financial support, they need political support from the international community more,” he said, adding that a just peace was the only real guarantee that a rebuilt Gaza would not be destroyed once more. 

The head of the Turkish delegation at the conference said his country would give $200 million for the reconstruction of the strip. Egypt’s relations with both Qatar and Turkey became tense after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi last year since both countries had supported the Morsi administration and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt’s ambassador to Qatar has been in Egypt since early February, and the Foreign Ministry has announced that he will not be returning to Doha. The move came in protest over Qatar’s intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs and because of its refusal to hand over Egyptian nationals wanted by prosecutors on criminal charges.

Qatar has also been broadcasting false information regarding developments in Egypt through the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera news channel.

In March, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in protest at Doha’s intervention in other states’ internal affairs and its refusal to act in coordination with other members regarding issues threatening the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Egypt has also downgraded its diplomatic relations with Turkey to the level of chargé d’affaires, and it recalled its ambassador from Ankara in November last year. Turkey responded with similar measures, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly criticised the present Egyptian government.

Last month, Erdogan attacked Egypt at the World Economic Forum meeting held in Istanbul and at the UN General Assembly session in New York.

The Reconstruction Conference, chaired by Egypt and Norway, received pledges of $5.4 billion for the reconstruction, far beyond the $4 billion initially sought by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Arab League also said earlier this month that it hoped to raise $5 billion at the Conference for the reconstruction of Gaza.

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