03/02/2009, 00.00
PALESTINE

Aid for Gaza being decided amid difficulties

Paul Dakiki
Donors’ conference is underway today. It is likely to settle on US$ 2.8 billion in aid. But willingness to rebuild will be shaped by political problems like Hamas’ status as a terrorist organisation according the West, intra-Palestinian divisions, truce with Israel and the Saudi-Iranian fight for regional supremacy.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza which opened today in Egypt should provide at least US$ 2.8 billion in aid to the Palestinians. About US$ 1.3 billion should go for reconstruction this and next year and 1.5 billion to support the annual budget of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).

At least that is the prevailing hope at the summit organised by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who has acted as mediator between Hamas and Fatah and between Hamas and Israel. About 75 nations are attending the meeting.

But some more or less openly acknowledged political conditions are attached to the financial pledges. Thus a lot is left unresolved.

First the United States and the European Union view Hamas (absent from the conference) as a terrorist organisation and refuse to have anything to do with it, let alone give them money.

"Hamas is not getting any of this money,” said State Department spokesman Robert Wood for Gaza reconstruction. The United States announced that it would provide US$ 300 million for reconstruction and US$ 600 million to support the Palestinian economy as a whole.

The European Union is also sticking to the same position, pledging US$ 554 million.

“We [. . .] expect that as in the past there will be one mechanism, the Palestinian Authority,” said EU Foreign Policy Representative Javier Solana.

This is obviously going to create some problems because the Gaza Strip is under Hamas control.

What is more, this common EU-US stance flies in the face of yesterday’s visit by Tony Blair, representative of the Quartet (United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia).

The second difficulty lies with Palestinians.

After Hamas wrested control of Gaza in 2007 Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads, fighting each other even during Israel’s latest offensive last December with each side arresting the other’s activists and the assassination in Gaza of members of Fatah, accused by Hamas of collaborating with the Israelis in targeting Islamists.

In anticipation of the donors’ conference Palestinian factions pledged to set up a national unity government which would allow them to bypass the Euro-American veto on funding for Hamas. But given past failures doubts remain.

Also at the start of the conference PNA President Mahmoud Abbas after thanking donors said: “We appreciate your presence and the financial, economic and technical support that you are giving to the Palestinian people, but we insist on the pressing need to achieve substantial progress towards a just settlement” with the Israelis.

The Palestinian leader urged the international community to ask “the next Israeli government” to “commit to a settlement based on the two-state solution and honour agreements that have been signed.”

Abbas’ request echoes statements made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said that US aid “cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace.”

This is closely tied to the EU-US demand that Hamas recognise Israel, a step the Islamist movement has refused to do so far.

The PNA and the West have also linked Gaza reconstruction on the reopening of border crossings with Israel, which Israel has linked to the release of one of its soldiers, Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in 2006.

The various negotiations are thus interfering with each other. Indeed, the “success of the reconstruction of Gaza depends on several factors, including a truce (between Israel and Hamas) and reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian factions," President Mubarak said at the start of the conference

For him the “priority is to reach a truce between Israel and Palestinians” which is tied to their willingness to include a prisoners’ exchange.

Last but not least there is the issue of regional supremacy.

Saudi news agency SPA announced that the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman) are going to donate US$ 1.65 billion, a step which for many is an attempt to counter Iran’s pledge of US$ 1 billion and a manoeuvre to weaken Hamas because it is closely aligned with Tehran.

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