Norway's envoy to Israel tells 'Post' mechanisms now exist to ensure Hamas will not be the end-user.
By HERB KEINON
The international community's major donors to the Palestinians are satisfied mechanisms now exist to enable the flow of reconstruction funds into Gaza while bypassing Hamas, Jakken Biorn Lian, Norway's envoy to Israel, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
"There are mechanisms for this already, we have a running dialogue with Israel on this," said Lian. "The major players in the donor community are satisfied that the end-user question has been answered satisfactorily."
Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, and a donors' conference that followed where billions of dollars were pledged to the Palestinians, there have been attempts to devise ways whereby money for rebuilding Gaza would be funneled in without helping Hamas either politically or financially.
"The whole donor community is against Hamas being the end-user," Lian said. He said various UN organizations would play a key role in funneling the money, and that they had a proven track-record of responsibility on these matters in the past.
The issue of how to funnel money into Gaza is expected to be one of the main topics at the next meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), otherwise known as the donor's committee, which is expected to be held in Norway in early June. The meeting is coming at a particularly difficult financial time for the Palestinian Authority, since EU aid for 2009, front-loaded in the beginning of the year because of PA budgetary problems, is coming to an end, and hundreds of millions of dollars pledged from Saudi Arabia have not yet come through.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official stopped short of endorsing the notion that an agreed-upon mechanism had already been set up.
Instead, weighing his words carefully, the official said Israel agreed with most of the international community that the money must not fall into the wrong hands and strengthen the extremists, that funds for Gaza reconstruction not come at the expense of money for the Palestinian Authority, and that the money should strengthen the PA in Gaza.
Lian said that although he understood Israel's hesitation regarding channeling the money into Gaza, "we have to discuss it further and find a solution that can help the population. We should remember that the Gaza population is 1.5 million, and doesn't only consist of Hamas. There is an objective need for the civilian population, which is a basic point of departure," he said.
While Israel does allow humanitarian aid to cross into Gaza, Lian said the needs there went far beyond humanitarian aid.
"The need of the population is not only humanitarian, it is also reconstruction of houses, schools, social institutions, hospitals and that sort of thing, which were damaged during the war," he said. "The reconstruction of these institutions, which any society needs, is a primary concern for the international community. It is the right thing for all, including Israel, to look at the reconstruction issue very seriously with the sense that it is an urgent issue."
Lian said that the major problem in Gaza was arms smuggling, which was not impeded by keeping the crossings closed.
"What matters as far as smuggling is concerned, is to stop action through the tunnels, stop the arms that are being shipped in from the sea," he said. "That is how you stop the smuggling of weapons, not by closing a border, where everything can be surveyed."
Norway was one of eight NATO countries that met in London shortly after Operation Cast Lead to commit to efforts to stop the arms smuggling into Gaza. He pointed out that Israel did not have representation in some of the countries where the arms smuggling originated, while Norway did.
"We can try to look at what is going on there," he said, "and look at the lanes of shipping, the whole route of smuggling as it occurs. There is cooperation as far as information is concerned. Intelligence is the key.
"This is key as far as terrorism is concerned, and as far as arms smuggling is concerned."
In a related issue, the Norwegian envoy dismissed the spate of critical reports recently in the press regarding Norway's position on Israel.
"Make no mistake about Norway's attitude toward Israel," he said. "It is one of basic solid support; we have a historic relationship that goes back to the creation of the state, to the Labor movements, and to the Christian church. I also feel that we have strong cooperative relations which will certainly continue, and will not be put into question by the occasional disagreement on policy."
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