Analysis: Even reconstuction is highly politicized

Experts: It's likely that Hamas will have at least some sort of role in reconstruction efforts.

abbas haniyeh 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas haniyeh 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Hamas-Fatah power struggle, which has dominated Palestinian politics in the last three years, has inevitably seeped into the pressing and complicated task of rebuilding the war-torn Gaza Strip. Both the secular Fatah movement and its Islamist rival are trying to take at least some credit for the rebuilding of homes, schools, factories and mosques that were damaged during Israel's three week military offensive against Hamas. On Monday, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak warned Hamas, which was not invited to the conference, not to treat the donors' pledges as a "conquest of war." As scores of donors pledged some some $4.4 billion dollars in Sharm e-Sheikh on Monday, Hamas held a press conference rejecting any attempts to politicize the donations. In essence, Hamas, which has offered a reconstruction plan of its own, was asking donors to avoid donating through the Palestinian Authority, as requested by PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, at the expense of the Islamist movement. Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since it violently routed out forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas in June, 2007. The two sides are currently engaged in Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks along with other Palestinian factions that aim to resolve their deep political differences and lead to a "national consensus government." "Bypassing the existing legitimate government in the Gaza Strip is a move in the wrong direction and an intentional act to obstruct the reconstruction of Gaza," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said during the televised news conference. Barhoum urged donors "to search for a quick and serious mechanism that would deliver support directly to the Palestinian citizens without getting involved in Palestinian political internal differences." At least some of the donors appear to have heeded that call, or at least found a diplomatic way to avoid taking sides. Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, pledged $1.6 billion but circumvented both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, saying they would set up a joint office in Gaza to decide on and implement reconstruction projects on their own. The move could be a compromise in the name of inter-Arab reconciliation between Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, which recognizes the PA as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and Qatar, which most recently sided with Hamas in its conflict with Israel. It might also be an effort to encourage the militant group, which is in reconciliation talks with Fatah and other Palestinian factions, to moderate and reconcile with the Palestinian Authority. But chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said they did not mind which channel donor countries selected, as long as they follow the coordinated plan of the Palestinian Authority government to ensure efficiency He said he was not concerned that Hamas would try to take credit for reconstruction efforts. "I think people know that this summit was attended by the international community, they know that both (Palestinian President) Mahmoud Abbas and (PA Prime Minister) Salaam Fayad were there, and they know the world's address as far as the Palestinians are concerned," he told The Jerusalem Post, referring to the Palestinian Authority. But experts say that as the ruling power on the ground, it's likely that Hamas will have at least some sort of role in reconstruction efforts. If PM Fayad can control the funds and direct them to the right place, the PA will presumably get credit for that, said Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. But a lot of employees on the ground who work for international and nongovernmental agencies are Hamas members, and Hamas could try to take credit for the work. "If the PA has the money to pay salaries to people, or to pay people directly to rebuild their homes, that gives the PA some leverage but I don't think it gives them too much," he said. "I think that Hamas has the upper hand in Gaza, and that's not going to change." Maddy-Weitzman said the PA is trying desperately to get its foot on the ground in Gaza and to weaken Hamas's domination there, something, he added, the international community would also like to see. "I think there is a desire in the international community," Maddy-Weitzman continued, "to tame Hamas, to get them to behave better, to share the wealth so that they wouldn't have sole control over this, and in return, they will become, I think, a legitimate interlocutor." Others say that reconstruction requires real collaboration between Hamas and Fatah to overcome major obstacles to reconstruction, such as Israel and Egypt's tight blockade on the territory. "This war has created a new political environment" in which both Hamas and Fatah realize they cannot go it alone, said Nagi Shurrab, professor of politics at Al Azhar University in Gaza. "They have one option, to rebuild their political system on democratic principles. I think both Hamas and Fatah have realized this." Unlike other jihadist movements like al-Qaida, Hamas is a pragmatic movement and has shown a certain degree of elasticity, Shurrab said. Thus despite its tough anti-Israel stance, it is not inconceivable to think that it could compromise somewhere down the line if it suits their interests. "Hamas can change from time to time, according to new variables, and new circumstances," he said. AP contributed to this report.