Arabs promise $1.5 billion to rebuild Gaza

Hamas-Fatah split seen hampering fulfillment of pledges.

gaza ruins 248.88ap (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza ruins 248.88ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Arab countries have pledged nearly $1.5 billion to rebuild the war-torn Gaza Strip and more funds are expected to be promised at the international donors conference set for next month in Cairo. However, the absence of a long-term truce that includes an arrangement on border crossings and of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation will hamper donations and reconstruction efforts, politicians and experts say. The absence of Palestinian reconciliation has sparked questions from potential donor countries about which who will control the funds and implement reconstruction projects, Saeb Erekat, senior Palestinian Authority negotiator, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "There are those who want to send money to [Hamas in] Gaza. There are those who want to send it to the Palestinian Authority government. The last thing we need is such excuses and pretexts," Erekat said. "What we need is a national government that will shoulder the responsibility of moving in the direction of reconstruction." Countries might use Palestinian divisions as an excuse not to donate, while Israel could use it to refuse to allow raw materials needed for reconstruction into Gaza, he said. Israel is concerned the raw materials would be used to make weapons. "We must get our act together as Palestinians and form a national unity government that will enable us to deal with the international community and to give a serious kick to reconstruction projects," Erekat said. So far, Saudi Arabia has pledged $1 billion for Gaza reconstruction, Qatar has promised $250 million and Algeria has pledged $200m. Other countries, such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, are expected to pledge aid at the Cairo conference, Erekat said. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is also expected to attend the March 2 conference. Without Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and some sort of PA presence in the Gaza Strip, "both Western and Arab governments are going to be less likely to open up their wallets, which as it is, are less full than they used to be, given the world economic crisis," said Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. "It doesn't bode well for the average Gazan." While no one is under the illusion that Hamas will disappear or cease to be the main party in Gaza, donors would like to see the PA return to become an active player there, too, he said. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries do not recognize the Hamas government. "The hope from the Arab donors, and the Saudis in particular, is that there will be a return to the unity formula, this Fatah-Hamas reconciliation that they brokered back in 2007, and that way, there is no single group dominating." Any delays in rebuilding would create an even worse situation, both a humanitarian crisis and a setting for more militant and extremist behavior, Maddy-Weitzman said. Another obstacle to reconstruction was Israel's refusal to allow raw materials and construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip, Erekat said. This issue is currently being negotiated via Egyptian officials, who are working to broker a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel. "A huge amount of raw and construction materials are needed to carry out the [reconstruction] plan, and this requires a normal opening of borders," said Khaled Abdel Shafi, who heads the United Nations Development Program office in Gaza. The UN has been forced to suspend $200m. in projects in the Strip, including road construction, housing and water systems, as a result of Israel's 20-month blockade, he said. Another Gaza-based Palestinian economist, Omar Shaban, said that rebuilding Gaza was dependent on the establishment of a truce between Hamas and Israel, opening the border crossings, freeing IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, and Palestinian reconciliation. "All of them are interrelated," he said. "Israel will not open the crossings fully without Schalit... Hamas will not give Schalit unless the crossings are open. And the crossings will not be open unless the truce is signed." Meanwhile, the PA said on Sunday it had begun making payments to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who lost their homes in Operation Cast Lead, Reuters reported. As a result, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said he did not have enough money to pay salaries to government workers in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Thousands of civil servants in the West Bank are observing a one-day warning strike because their salaries are two weeks overdue. Fayad did not give an exact figure, but says he's given $20 million to UN agencies for helping Gazans made homeless by the war. Some 150,000 Palestinian are on Fayad's payroll, about half of them in Gaza. The Gaza employees have stayed home since Hamas seized the territory in June 2007, but they continue to receive a salary. Only some of the West Bank government employees observed Sunday's strike. Teachers and members of the security forces reported to work. AP contributed to this report.