Sound and fury signifying nothing?Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said any efforts at rebuilding would need his government's consent. Some of his colleagues have spoken about disarmiing Hamas as a price of reconstruction. Some say that reconstruction is essential for long term quiet, but talk about strict controls over the use of building materials.
Delegates representing some 50 nations and 20 regional and international organizations met in Cairo to talk about peace and reconstruction, and fill the hat being passed by the President of the Palestine National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
Neither Israel nor Hamas were invited, which threatens the nothing part of the opening line taken from Macbeth.
Abbas said that he needed $4 billion, and received pledges of $5.4 billion. Qatar was the biggest donor, at $1 billion, but animosity between Qatar and Egypt, as well as Qatar and Israel may complicate that transfer. Other big givers were Saudi Arabia $500 million, the US $212 million, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Kuwait $200 million each, Norway $135 million, Germany €50 million (c$63 million), France €40 million ($50 million),UK $32 million, Catherine Ashton said that the EU would contribute €450 million, which may include the separate contributions from Germany, UK, and France.
Those numbers are impressive, but they came along with comments about the futility of actually sending the money and rebuilding without a peace treaty, which would most likely bring together many of the same donors for the same purpose in another year or two.
John Kerry was among those speaking about the need to restart a peace process, but he offered no explanation how such a move would be more successful than that which recently failed.
Several delegates endorsed the notion that the Palestine Authority, with Mahmoud Abbas at its head, would manage the reconstruction along with the UN. But the Fatah-Hamas peace accord is still to be tested by any tangible cooperation (as opposed to words of commitment), and there is a long record of previous accords that did not make it beyond the speeches.
Skeptics note that much of the destruction traced to previous confrontations between Hamas and Israel (2008-09, 2012) has yet to be repaired. They also cite the record of donors not providing anything close to what they promise, and sizable amounts siphoned off by well placed Palestinians.
Also in the air are the Swedish Prime Minister's pledge to recognize the State of Palestine, a similar resolution passed by the British Parliament, a French proposal to convene a joint meeting in Paris between leading figures of the French and Palestinian governments, and a statement by Russian Foreign Minister supporting the Palestinian draft resolution to the UN Security Council which sets a two year deadline for the end of Israeli occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Ban-Ki Moon's speech at Cairo was a canned set of platitudes expressing opposition to the destruction of Gaza and the threatening of Israelis by Hamas rockets. It demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza, along with reconstruction and agreements to assure that there would not be another round of warfare.
A day after the conference, Moon sounded tougher. According to one headline, he demanded that Israel scrap the East Jerusalem settlement plan for Givat Hamatos.
During a visit to Gaza, Moon escalated his rhetoric further, slamming Israel's attack on UN facilities where Palestinians had sought refuge. He passed over as much less problematic the practice of Hamas in using those sites to store their missiles and fire them toward Israeli civilians.
Moon shifted the tone of his comments when visiting Israel's region alongside Gaza, and the family of a young boy killed by Hamas mortars. The General Secretary of the United Nations tries to be fair to all, with the likely result that he is effective for none.
At his meeting with Moon, Prime Minister Netanyahu made his own slam against the UN for returning rockets found in UNRWA schools to Hamas so they might be fired at Israel.
John Kerry also gave an interview in which he seemed to write off the Syrian city of Kobani, currently under attack by ISIS. He called the possible take over of the city by ISIS a tragedy but not a strategic loss. Others are speaking about the likely slaughter of thousands if ISIS gains control.
Kerry repeated the American line that the defeat of ISIS would take time, and that the first order of business was to improve the training and morale of the Iraqi army, something the US has been working on for a decade or more.
A US Government spokesperson has expressed official regret about the destruction of Palestinian olive trees in the West Bank, without pointing a finger of blame.
In some of these regrettable actions, the perpetrators appear to be settler extremists. In others, we hear that they are Palestinians doing the work of family feuds against other Palestinians..
Whatever occurred in this instance, it's good to see that vandalism is worrying someone close to the top of the US Government.
President Obama has scheduled phone calls with the national leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy to talk about dealing with Ebola.
That is also a serious problem. It is good to see that the White House is involved.
Abbas' contribution to the Gaza conference was a hyperbolic speech blaming Israel for slaughter and massive destruction, which hardly seemed likely to increase Israel's willingness to cooperate on reconstruction.
"The most recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, which resulted in vast destruction and uncountable catastrophes is unbearable and cannot pass without consequence. Yet, we will continue to work and coordinate closely with Egypt and all relevant parties to maintain and consolidate the cease-fire . . .The international community should undertake its responsibilities by preventing the aggression, destruction, displacement and suffering of our Palestinian people and supporting our demand in ending Israel's occupation of our land and in realizing the vision of the two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative,"
Abbas was generous with respect to his concern for the people of Gaza.
Hamas is not certain that money will flow from Abbas' people to its list of administrators and security personnel. And the half of donations destined for Abbas to manage for the sake of Palestinian economic development may not find its way to Gaza."You are in our hearts. We will work relentlessly to undo the injustice that befell you and end the suffering that you've been experiencing for years. We will heal your wounds that are deeply entrenched in our souls. We will re-build the Gaza Strip, relying on God first, then on the determination of our people. We will also rely on resources and capacities available to us and on the assistance and support of our brothers and friends from around the world, who we trust will not disappoint you in supporting our economy and improving its lot and who will also support you in reclaiming a dignified life in your homeland and in lifting you out of this disastrous situation caused by this unjust war. Your plight has touched and shaken the world's conscience."
Israeli sources see both the Abbas and Egypt as having an interest to assure that rebuilding will proceed slowly, if at all, in order to keep Hamas weak. From this perspective, the comments by the Egyptian President about the appropriateness of the Arab peace initiative of 2002, long ago rejected by Israel, suggest that avoiding substantial progress is the name of his game.