Monday, March 2, 2009
Donors discuss rebuilding Gaza
Conditions will be attached to the $300m Hillary Clinton, left, is set to hand over for Gaza [AFP]
International donors meeting in Egypt are expected to pledge billions of dollars to
rebuild the Gaza Strip after it was battered during Israel's 22-day offensive earlier this year.
Opening the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, urged donors to give generously, but said aid would not compensate for the 1,300 Palestinian lives lost during the war.
"I reach to you with an appeal from the heart to declare tangible pledges," he said.
Up to 75 countries and international organisations are being asked to fund a $2.8bn reconstruction plan designed by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who wants a large part of the money to be channelled through the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
Ahead of Tuesday's conference, the US state department announced that Washington would contribute $300m to meet "urgent" humanitarian needs in Gaza.
It remains unclear though how the planned reconstruction of Gaza will be undertaken. The territory is controlled by Hamas and Israel has said it will refuse to approve projects that could benefit the group.
"We definitely don't want to see the goodwill of the international community exploited by Hamas and serve Hamas's extremist purposes," Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, said. Hamas took full control of Gaza in June 2007 after driving out security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and leader of the rival Fatah group. Hamas, which has not been invited to the conference in Egypt and is labelled a "terrorist" group by the US and the EU, has prepared its own reconstruction plan.
"We are welcoming anyone who wants to reconstruct Gaza, but without any political terms on Hamas or on the Palestinian people," Osama Hamdan, a Beirut-based Hamas official, told Al Jazeera.
Israel's blockade of the territory continues to prevent supplies, including construction materials, from crossing into Gaza.
Marc Gopin, from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, told Al Jazeera that the donors' conference was "an attempt to demonstrate humanitarian concern".
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) says $2.8bn is needed to rebuild Gaza.
A total of $2.25bn has already been pledged by Saudi Arabia ($1bn), Qatar ($250m), Algeria ($100m) and the US ($900m).
The US says its financial assistance cannot be channelled through Gaza's Hamas-run government.
Israel has barred entry of material which it says may have military use, such as cement and steel rods.
But, he said, there was "no real addressing of the political fallout in the long run, as to whether there's going to be reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and whether in fact this aid can really ever get in".
"They can't even get in humanitarian aid at this point because the [Israeli] blockade is so severe."
Mubarak also told delegates at the conference that the "priority is to reach a truce between Israel and Palestinians". The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip ended after Israel called a halt to the fighting on January 18. Hamas announced its own ceasefire
the following day.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, including women and children, died during the war on Gaza, which Israel launched with the stated aim of preventing rocket fire from fighters based in the coastal territory. At least 13 Israelis, three of them civilians, were also killed. However, rocket fire has continued and Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, on Sunday vowed a "painful" response if the attacks on southern Israel did not stop.
Hillary Clinton, on her first visit to the Middle East since becoming the US secretary of state, said on Friday that the US aid, which will include another $600m for the Palestinian Authority, would depend on how well the Palestinians meet conditions imposed by the so-called Quartet of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. "I will be announcing a commitment to a significant aid package, but it will only be spent if we determine that our goals can be furthered rather than undermined or subverted," she told Voice of America radio.
Robert Wood, a spokesman for the US state department, said the $300m would be funnelled through the UN and other organisations. "Hamas is not getting any of this money," he told reporters.
Saree Makdisi, the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, told Al Jazeera that "it sure looks like more of the same" US policy and that there was no difference between Clinton's stance and that of Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor. "The most surprising thing isn't that there's no difference, it's that there's no difference in spite of the fact that the [incoming] Israeli government has taken an even more belligerent stand" against the Palestinians and on honouring international law, he said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies