Sadly, once again, the post-war recovery experts, their international consultancy firms, an international aid industry, and the donor community are ramping up for another Gaza reconstruction exercise. Another war, and another salvage effort for the besieged coastal strip. An international donors' conference, a carbon copy of the 2009 Sharm El-Sheikh donor conference, is due to take place in Norway this September. There seems little doubt that conference participants will pledge another $5 billion (which may or may not be paid), in an effort that seems destined only to cover up the failure of the international community to stop the destruction before it started.
The donor conference does present an opportunity, however, to forge a new paradigm of aid politics. As a first step, Hamas must be invited to attend this round. Exclusion would only lead to repeated mistakes. It is time to re-evaluate the decision to exclude the party.
In the aftermath of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, international donors rejected a democratically elected Hamas. By doing so they undermined the very governance reforms that they had paid to implement. Worse, they entrenched the intra-Palestinian divide between Fatah and Hamas. And they contributed to the years-long impasse in the peace process and to the deteriorating living conditions of Palestinians. Reconstructing Gaza has the potential to be a bold political move that would enable donors to reverse the mistakes they made in the past.
There are four strong reasons to include Hamas in the reconstruction process. First, it is time to acknowledge the major transformations that the party has undergone over the past decades. The Hamas of 2014 is dramatically different from the party of 1987 that penned a charter calling for the de facto rejection of Israel. In 2006, Hamas acknowledged the Oslo Peace Accords by participating in parliamentary elections. Hamas Chairman Khaled Mash'al has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 boarders. The charter is obsolete. It is about time that the US media starts focusing on the Hamas of today, an organization with reasonable demands, such as lifting the siege on Gaza.
Second, before entrusting reconstruction funds to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, donors need to be reminded of its eroding legitimacy, including the fact that it is un-elected. Donors must work with the local government as well as secure a long-term impact by lifting the siege on Gaza. This does not entail recognizing Hamas as a legitimate government, but is rather a recognition that Hamas's popularity and public legitimacy has increased in the aftermath of the war on Gaza. Yes Hamas has, like Fatah, committed human rights violations and practised corruption; it is equally responsible, alongside Fatah, for the intra-Palestinian divide. Parallel demands must be made for public accountability. But this should be dealt with as a separate matter from the reconstruction of Gaza. Given Hamas' political standing, is it not about time to ask donors, and the US in particular, when they will engage directly?
Third, the donor community must engage with the right actors. It is not enough to recognize Hamas as a legitimate political actor as Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson argued. Rather, it is time "to do business" with Hamas, and to focus efforts on the interests of Palestinians. Hamas, more than anyone else, knows what Gaza needs today, and has the infrastructure to make sure the needs of Gazans are met.
Fourth, it is more than time to end the donors' traditional preference for including Israel in reconstruction planning and discussions. Israel pockets a large portion of funds bound for Palestinians, and clearly targets Palestinian infrastructure and capacity for development, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank. It is more than time to pay attention to the findings of a recent Independent Commission for Human Rights report that unless donors "hold Israel accountable, [Israeli] actions will continue and your funds will go to repair the damages. Ironically, Israel will end up receiving over 30% of all funds that you bring for recovery and humanitarian assistance" because of their control over goods and services.
If donors don't want to keep pouring their aid dollars into a bottomless pit while letting Israel get away with repeated assaults, they must hold Israel accountable. It is beyond ludicrous to invite the besieger that has repeatedly destroyed Gaza's infrastructure beyond any conceivable notion of "self-defense" to the planning table with the besieged.
The explicit and direct inclusion of Hamas in the international donors' conference in Norway next month is key to an effective reconstruction process. Next month donors must choose between sustaining the status quo or taking bold and necessary steps for change. Respect for the rights of the Palestinians in Gaza and beyond dictates bold change over the status quo.
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