After last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas that claimed more than 2000 Palestinian lives, the Gaza Strip was left with nearly 500,000 Palestinian displaced and 60,000 houses destroyed or damaged , and the cost for reconstruction has been calculated between $4 and $8 billion.
A donor conference was held on the 12th of October in Cairo, where $5.4 billion were pledged to rebuild Gaza. AlJazeera claims only half will cover the reconstruction’s cost while the other half will be used to support the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) budget . As pointed out by many commentators, the amount will hardly be enough to respond to Gaza’s multiple needs. First of all, a durable shelter solution for the displaced is critically urgent, in addition to a rapid assessment and repair of the main infrastructures, electricity and water systems, roads, hospitals and schools. According to the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 20,000 houses are estimated to have been rendered uninhabitable, at least the 40 percent of the water supply network is unusable, 219 schools have been damaged and 22 completely destroyed .
Secondly, Hamas is struggling with the public salary payments, which are arguably the only salaries paid in Gaza where the private sector has been almost completely wiped out by the 7-year blockade. This has decreased support of Hamas’ government and it has been alleged that Hamas has pursued the war as a mean of distracting Gazan public opinion. Moreover, the $5.4 billion were pledged, which, in donors’ language, means that a huge question mark is still pending on when and whether the entire amount will come.
Additionally, the UNSCO (Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process) was able to broker an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis that is supposed to pave the way for a resolution of the Gaza situation. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism consists of a complicated and highly bureaucratized system of shared responsibilities between the PA and the United Nations with the supervision by the Israeli government, whose primary concern is that the material for reconstruction is not misused by Hamas to build weapons. While the PA and the UN will be in charge of developing reconstruction projects, Israel will oversee the whole process. For example, Israel will have a say on the access of building material in Gaza and on the location of every major rebuilding project.
Restricted access to building materials has always been a critical aspect of the complicated relations between Israel and Hamas and can undoubtedly be considered one of the major causes of the war. The mechanism established with the good offices of the UN gives substantial priority to Israel’s security concerns, rather than boosting a timely solution to Gaza’s devastation, and it is said to have created a system where the UN is basically in charge of enforcing Israeli blockade. In essence, Israel is entitled to a substantial veto power to any material that crosses Gaza’s border while shirking the responsibility of the reconstruction, which will be a burden solely on PA and the UN. Israel has huge leverage here, being in the position to disrupt the reconstruction at any given time, but with great power come great responsibility and Hamas has already threatened to renew violence if Israel prevents the Gaza reconstruction .
It cannot be denied that the International Community undertook some substantial steps to ensure that Gaza is rebuilt, but there are many questions that have not been answered yet. First of all, any effort to alleviate the suffering of the 1.8 million population of Gaza (of whom 1.2 million are refugees) needs to be framed in the broader peace process: it is unthinkable that the international donors will continue to pay for the reconstruction without the assurance that Gaza will not destroyed by another war. As UN Secretary-General pointed out on the occasion of the Cairo Conference, the “build-destroy, build-destroy cycle must be broken” . Secondly, the peace process as well as the reconstruction will not create any significant change unless the blockade is lifted; people will remain imprisoned, the economy will remain stagnant and pretty soon discontent will pave the way for renewed tensions and, eventually, violence. Finally, if the International Community continues to not hold Israel responsible for the damaged caused, thus making a new Gaza war potentially cost-free, how can anyone be sure that it won’t happen again soon?
Written by Irene C and published on 19-November-2014