Oct. 15, 2014
Number 10/14 #03
This Update deals with the international donors conference for Gaza that took place in Cairo on Sunday, and led to pledges of US$5.4 billion in money to be divided equally between Gaza reconstruction and the Palestinian Authority.
We lead with a critique of the likely effects of the conference from veteran Israeli Arab Affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Toameh argues that despite the promises to funnel the money through the Palestinian Authority (PA), the donors are nonetheless empowering Hamas, which will benefit politically from the money and be able to use its other resources to dig tunnels and rebuild weapons. He gives a lot of details about what was promised but notes the key mistake of the donors was “failing to demand the disarmament of Hamas as a precondition for funnelling aid to the Gaza Strip.” For his complete analysis of how what they have done will benefit Hamas, CLICK HERE. More on the danger of naively rebuilding Hamas while rebuilding Gaza from Israeli columnist Boaz Bismuth.
Next up is former senior American official dealing with the Middle East Elliot Abrams who, in a piece written before the conference convened, discusses the complexities which explain why the reconstructing Gaza has been, and is likely to continue to be, slow, difficult and fraught. He notes that the central difficulty is that Hamas is still running Gaza and despite the illusions of a “unity government” – which Abu Toameh also discusses – relations with the PA remain poisonous, and both will be manoeuvring to use the aid to their own advantage as essential but difficult issues like border arrangements and salaries for Hamas and PA civil servants are discussed – even as Egypt and Israel are determined to keep Hamas from re-arming. Meanwhile, he also importantly points out that pledges are not the same thing as aid, and in the past alleged pledges to the PA, especially from Arab countries, have often failed to be turned into real cash. For Abrams’ full discussion, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Gazans are reportedly sceptical that much reconstruction aid will ever reach them.
Finally, Israeli academics Kobi Michael puts the debate about aiding Gaza into a wider regional context – especially in terms of the reality of the a growing confluence of interests between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab states in the face of spreading Islamist extremism. He notes that Sunni states want to weaken Hamas and strengthen the PA, which is also in Israel’s interests, and he proposes that a reversal of the formula of the 2002 Arab peace initiative – which proposed to offer Israel recognition and relations in exchange for first granting Palestinian statehood – could be path to allow rebuilding Gaza and marginalising Hamas. What Michael proposes is that Israel-Arab relations – though perhaps not formal ones – be established to create a coalition that will create the conditions for creating a Palestinian state by taking over the rebuilding of Gaza and removing Hamas and its allies – Qatar, Turkey and Iran – from the process. For all the details of Dr. Michael’s argument, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- American columnist Steve Huntley takes on the belief that seems apparent among some donor states that it is Israel which is to blame for any past and future destruction in Gaza.
- Ehud Yaari has a must-read new paper about Hamas’ internal struggle over finding a new strategy in the wake of the Gaza conflict.
- Good comment on the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to children’s rights advocates Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India from Max Boot and noted Pakistani scholar and author Husain Haqqani.
- Antisemitic material reportedly published on the website of the UN agency UNRWA.
- Amotz Asa-El on what is really behind the decision of the new Swedish government’s decision to recognise the currently non-existent state of “Palestine.” Plus, British scholar Richard Black dissects the stupidities behind a similar purely symbolic vote in the British parliament.
- British academic Alan Johnson offers seven theses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Isi Leibler writes about the oft-repeated claim that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo” is “unsustainable.”
- AIJAC’s Gabrielle Debinski on what some recent incidents on “Reality TV” say about Israeli and Arab realities in the outside world.
by Khaled Abu Toameh
Gatestone Institute, October 14, 2014 at 5:00 am
It would be naïve to think that Hamas would not benefit from the billions of dollars that have just been promised to help with the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, during a donor conference in Cairo.
The Palestinians were hoping for $4 billion, but the donor states pledged $5.4 billion, half of which will be “dedicated” to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, according to Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende.
It is not yet clear how the second half will be spent.
Qatar, a longtime supporter and funder of Hamas, promised $1 billion, while US Secretary of State John Kerry announced immediate American aid of $212 million. The European Union, for its part, pledged $568 million.
Donor states said they would funnel the aid only through the Palestinian Authority [PA]. But this does not mean that Hamas, which continues to maintain a tight grip on the Gaza Strip, would fail to benefit from the financial aid.
In fact, any funds earmarked for the Gaza Strip will strengthen Hamas, even if the money is coming through the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas has agreed to put aside its differences with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah faction in order to pave the way for the international community to allocate billions of dollars towards the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas even welcomed the PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah when he visited the Gaza Strip last week.
In recent weeks, Hamas had accused Hamdallah and his government of failing to help the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in wake of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Hamas had also accused the Hamdallah government and Mahmoud Abbas of ordering a security crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
Hamdallah’s visit to the Gaza Strip came on the eve of the Cairo donor conference; that is why Hamas was prepared to receive him and his ministers in the Gaza Strip. Hamas did not want the donor states to withhold the funds under the pretext that the Palestinians were still fighting among each other and unable to get their act together.
Hamas knew that this was the only way to persuade the donor states to approve billions of dollars in aid to the Gaza Strip. The show of “unity” between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas was mainly intended to show the donors that they should not worry about their money ending up in the wrong hands.
After all, Hamas also knows that every dollar invested in the Gaza Strip will serve the interests of the Islamist movement. Of course, this is excellent news for Hamas.
First, the promised funds absolve Hamas of any responsibility for the catastrophe it brought upon the Palestinians during the confrontation with Israel.
Now the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will no longer be asking Hamas to compensate them for the loss of their houses and family members. Any Palestinian who asks Hamas for financial aid will, as of now, be referred to the PA or the donor states.
Hopes that the catastrophic results of the confrontation would increase pressure on Hamas or perhaps trigger a revolt against it have faded now that the PA and the donor states have become the address for distributing financial aid.
Second, the talk about rebuilding or repairing infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is the best thing that could have happened to Hamas. The funds promised by the donor states will help rebuild various Hamas-controlled installations in the Gaza Strip, such as ministries, security bases, universities, mosques and charities. The infrastructure in the Gaza Strip is almost entirely controlled, directly and indirectly, by Hamas.
All investment in the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure will ultimately serve Hamas’s interests, even if such work is being carried out by the Palestinian Authority.
Third, Hamas members and supporters would be among those entitled to some of the money coming from the Western and Arab donors. The Palestinian Authority would find it impossible to hand out money only to Abbas loyalists in the Gaza Strip, having already promised to take care of all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, regardless of their political affiliations.
Four, the financial aid has not been conditioned on Hamas laying down its weapons or even ceding control over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. From now, the PA will be working toward rebuilding the Gaza Strip while Hamas will use its own resources to smuggle in additional weapons and prepare for the next war with Israel. This seems to be the agreed division of responsibilities between Hamas and the PA.
Five, there is no guarantee that the billions of dollars would have a moderating effect on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or turn them away from Hamas. Some Palestinians are even worried that the international community might be trying to bribe the PA to stop it from pursuing plans to seek unilateral UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Others believe the promised funds are intended to stop the PA from signing the Rome Statute as a first step toward joining the International Criminal Court, in order to file “war crimes” charges against Israel.
The Palestinians are nevertheless willing to accept the billions of dollars. But that does not mean that they will refrain from voting for Hamas in a future election. Nor does this mean that they are going to make any concessions or moderate their demands, first and foremost the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to Israel.
The decisions made at the Cairo donor conference constitute a big victory for Hamas. Hamas can now go back to digging new tunnels and obtaining new weapons, instead of helping the Palestinians whose lives and homes were destroyed as a result of its actions. The biggest mistake the donor states made was failing to demand the disarmament of Hamas as a precondition for funnelling aid to the Gaza Strip. The donors have not only saved Hamas; they have emboldened it, allowing it to stay around for many more years.
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Council on Foreign Relations “Pressure Points” blog, October 10, 2014
The Hamas claim of victory in last summer’s conflict with Israel was based largely on the associated claim that life in Gaza would now change to the great benefit of the people living there. A vast reconstruction program would commence almost immediately.
But now it’s October, and there has been no reconstruction. An Associated Press story tells the tale:
More than five weeks after the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the fighting still live in classrooms, storefronts and other crowded shelters. In some of the hardest-hit areas, the displaced have pitched tents next to the debris that once was their homes….reconstruction efforts appear stymied by a continued Israeli-Egyptian border blockade of Gaza and an unresolved power struggle between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas….Skepticism about rebuilding efforts is widespread in Gaza. The recent 50-day war was the third in the territory in just over five years. Many homes destroyed in previous fighting still haven’t been rebuilt.
There are at least two main issues. First, Egypt and Israel want to be sure that construction materials do not go to Hamas for its construction of tunnels, arms depots, and other means of making war rather than for building homes, schools, and the like. They also want to be sure that Hamas does not smuggle in arms and ammunition. This means the establishment of a border control regime and some way of identifying end users inside Gaza. Second, the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah (or the Palestinian Authority–same thing) continues.
On October 12 in Cairo, at an international conference on rebuilding Gaza, PA president Mahmoud Abbas will ask for $4 billion in pledges. He may get some pledges; cash is a different story. Many donors are wary of corruption in the PA and in Hamas, and fear Hamas efforts to divert funds and materials to illicit terrorist uses. Donors from the EU have made some foolish statements about how tired they are of paying for reconstruction of buildings that Israel then bombs, and appear to be seeking some Israeli promise never to strike Gaza again. This is impossible, because Hamas remains in charge in Gaza and may well decide to launch fusillades of mortars and rockets into Israel again, hiding as it usually does within, behind, and under civilian facilities such as houses, mosques, and hospitals. If this happens Israel will respond, so the kind of pledge some European donors have been seeking is impossible to give. Hamas has chosen war several times before and may well choose it again.
The central problem is that Hamas is still running Gaza. The new Palestinian “technocratic” government is not yet functioning, at least in the sense that it, and the PA, are actually in charge. No doubt Hamas would be happy to see lots of money coming into Gaza, and a deal has apparently been struck under which the PA will pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza with new Qatari money, as well as continuing to pay its own. This deal is supposed to exclude terrorists, ie the so-called Hamas “armed wing,” but who will really keep track? No doubt Hamas would be happy to see and take credit for a vast reconstruction program, and to allow PA agents to sit in border posts. But will it disband its own police and military forces? Will anyone in Gaza really believe the PA is in control, including the PA’s own agents? Will any Palestinian really raise a challenge when he or she sees diversion of material by Hamas, knowing that death could be the price to pay?
Misery in Gaza is not in Israel’s interest nor that of Egypt, nor nowadays that of Hamas. There is a very widespread desire to alleviate the suffering in Gaza and begin reconstruction. But the practical problems are great, and reflect justifiable convictions that Hamas will take any opportunity to rebuild its own strength as its top priority, much more important to it than the mere reconstruction of houses and apartments. The skepticism on the part of Gazans reflects reality. As long as Hamas is in power in Gaza, reconstruction will be slow–and another round of conflict with Israel is quite possible.
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