Reconstructing Gaza Means Reinventing Aid

If donors want to finally contribute to a just and lasting peace, then they need to take a more balanced approach that includes inviting Hamas into the political process and holding Israel accountable for its actions.
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Co-authored by Jeremy Wildeman, Guest Author at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.

Despite his failure to negotiate a Palestinian-Israeli peace, US Secretary of State John Kerry is headed back to the region for the October 12th, 2014 international donor conference on Gaza's reconstruction. The Cairo Conference follows Israel's 51-day summer bombardment of the tiny Strip that saw over 2,000 Palestinians killed and many more injured or displaced, as well as billions of dollars in damage to homes, public buildings, and infrastructure.

It is to be hoped that Kerry will not be tempted to use aid money as a substitute for a political process if donors want to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, there are reports that European donors are reluctant to give new money without a serious prospect of peace. They are facing tight budgets at home and have already paid billions for damage caused by Israel's devastating attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip - this was the third such onslaught in six years -- as well as in the occupied West Bank.

Unfortunately, as with all the aid packages that the West and its main financial institutions have foisted on the Palestinians since the first Oslo Accord in 1993, it is more likely to be business as usual. Had donors been serious about supporting a meaningful political process, they would not have excluded Hamas, the real political power in Gaza, from participation at the Cairo Conference.

In fact, the first of the conference's three main objectives -- strengthening the Palestinian government's ability to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip -- can only be achieved if Hamas is included. Regardless of one's views of Hamas, a lasting peace is only possible with the inclusion of all the major political actors in the conflict. After all, Palestinians are forced to cooperate with an Israeli government whose senior members have openly called for acts of genocide against Palestinians.

The deliberate exclusion of Hamas from the Cairo conference plays into the political agenda of the Israeli government, which is to fracture the Palestinian government that Fatah and Hamas jointly agreed in the spring. The exclusion of Hamas also means the strengthening of the unrepresentative Fatah-led and Western-funded Palestinian Authority (PA). There are also serious obstacles to achieving the other conference objectives. The second objective involves "enhancing" the existing UN mechanism" to import and export goods to and from Gaza. Previous donor-supported development programs have relied on international trade as a path to a viable Palestinian economy. Yet this has always been impossible because Israel refuses to give Palestinians control over their own borders and resources, or guarantee their freedom of movement, a basic human right. Unless this happens, any trade-based aid model will fail.

Furthermore, this second objective may simply result in the UN enforcing Israel's siege on Gaza, thus compounding the problems of freedom of movement and access and becoming just another layer of control with which Palestinians must contend.

As for the Conference's third objective -- providing the financial support to reconstruct Gaza -- any aid-induced recovery in Gaza will be temporary without a political solution, as noted above. In addition, there is little reason to believe that the PA will be able to safeguard investments in Palestinian businesses and infrastructure, which Israel has repeatedly destroyed without ever being held accountable for the costs to international donors, let alone the Palestinian people.

Just recently, for example, in the more "peaceful" West Bank Israel bulldozed 70 power poles and 4.5 kilometers of electrical wire in an electricity network funded by the Belgian Technical Cooperation at a cost of $70,000.

Worse, Israel stands to benefit from donor support to the occupied Palestinian territory. All investment is made in its currency, often through Israeli suppliers or imported through Israeli-controlled borders. As much as 45% of aid dollars go back to Israel.

Gaza is, by anyone's definition, a miserable place to live. Already, prior to the summer assault, 80 percent of Palestinians in Gaza were dependent on aid, 47 percent were food insecure and 40 percent unemployed. The siege has until now prevented rebuilding in the wake of previous assaults, making reconstruction today much, much harder. And despite donor generosity, today more Palestinians are living in poverty throughout the occupied territory than when the Oslo "peace process" began.

In short, the absence of a political process between Israelis and Palestinians based on the principle of recognizing Palestinian rights will only ensure unmitigated disaster. Donors' politicized "de-politicization" of the conflict by excluding major actors increases the potential for further factional fragmentation. Their refusal to hold Israel accountable for any of its decades-long violations of international law means pouring money down the drain and deprives an entire people of its most basic rights. If donors want to finally contribute to a just and lasting peace, then they need to take a more balanced approach that includes inviting Hamas into the political process and holding Israel accountable for its actions.

The opinion of individual members of Al-Shabaka's policy network do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization as a whole.

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