Amid doubts, Gaza donor conference to start in Cairo

By REUTERS
October 12, 2014 06:41

US official skeptical full reconstruction funding can be raised; Kerry to meet with Abbas on sidelines; Hamdallah: Gaza must be linked to West Bank.

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A member of Palestinian security forces stands guard atop the ruins of a house in Beit Hanoun as people watch PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (not seen) visiting houses that witnesses said were destroyed during the recent conflict in Gaza. . (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Palestinian Authority plans to ask the international community for $4 billion to reconstruct Gaza at a donor conference slated to start in Cairo on Sunday that will link the Strip’s future to the two-state solution and call for an end to all Israel-imposed border restrictions.

“Full recovery from years of conflict and devastation can happen only if Gaza is once more connected with the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and all parts of Palestine are once more open to the world,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah wrote in a report on Gaza released in advance of the conference.

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“We extend our hand to the international community, to our partners in peace and our friends in times of need.

We challenge the world to be ambitious and daring in helping us realize our dream of prosperity and justice in an independent state, free of military occupation. An immediate measure is to end the blockade on Gaza and ensure our people never again experience the horrors of this summer,” Hamdallah wrote.

The report, “The National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza,” estimates that 60,000 homes – 18 percent of the Strip’s housing – was destroyed or damaged during the war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is to join his counterparts from dozens of countries on Sunday at a meeting where the PA hopes moves by a new unity government toward assuming control in Hamas-dominated Gaza could make wealthy donor governments less wary of providing reconstruction funds.

Still, it remains unclear how generous they will be 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,” a State Department official told reporters, citing concerns that unless the cycle is broken they will be “back here doing the same thing again in a year or two.”

He predicted the conference would yield “significant contributions” for reconstruction, with the Gulf states providing the bulk and Washington and the Europeans offering “meaningful and appropriate” amounts, as well.

“I don’t know whether anybody thinks we’re going to get to $4b. or whether we need those kind of pledges right now,” the official added.

Kerry, who led an intensive peace effort that collapsed in April, also will use the conference to recommit Washington to a twostate solution and keep the door open to negotiations, officials said, though they offered no specifics and the chances for restarting the peace process soon appear dim.

One State Department official told AFP “you will hear the secretary reaffirm the commitment of the United States to helping the parties achieve a negotiated two-state solution and our willingness to reengage in the negotiations and help facilitate successful negotiations.

“More broadly, we are interested in sort of breaking the cycle we have been in in the last six years of war and reconstruction there,” the official added.

The European Union on Thursday said Gaza would be part of the future state of Palestine and must be seen within the larger context of the two-state solution.

“The situation in the Gaza Strip cannot and must not be seen separately from the broader challenges and developments on the ground that continue to make the prospect of the two-state solution increasingly difficult to attain,” it said at the 11th-meeting of the EU-Jordan Association Council in Brussels.

Though Israel will not take part in the Cairo meetings, one US official said: “We’re asking the Israelis to continue to do what they’ve been doing in terms of facilitating humanitarian assistance” to the Gaza Strip.

In advance of the conference, PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby in Cairo.

Kerry plans to meet Abbas in Cairo and will seek to dissuade him from “very destabilizing” diplomatic moves, one US official said. The Palestinians have threatened to seek membership in the International Criminal Court as a forum to accuse Israel of war crimes.

US officials made clear they were encouraged by efforts by Abbas’s government to extend its authority to the Strip under a unity deal with Hamas.

However, reconstruction will be the focus of the conference, co-sponsored by Egypt and Norway in cooperation with the United Nations, EU, and Arab League. Washington announced $118 million in humanitarian assistance for Gaza in September, and Saudi Arabia also has pledged funds.

Of the requested $4b., some $1.6b. is earmarked for the UN Relief and Works Agency.

“$1.6b. is the largest single ask in UNRWA’s 64-year history. It’s unprecedented, reflecting the massive scale of destruction and the profound level of need the beleaguered people of Gaza are experiencing today,” spokesman Chris Gunness said.

A trilateral agreement among the PA, Israel, and the UN has been reached to allow necessary building supplies into Gaza for the reconstruction efforts. A mechanism has been agreed on to monitor the material to ensure that it will not be diverted to Hamas to rebuild infiltration tunnels into Israel.

The UN and Israel have said a date to implement the mechanism will be set soon.


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