Donor 'fatigue' at 'intractable' conflict as Gaza aid conference kicks off in Cairo

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The one-day conference in Cairo aims to raise billions of dollars in reconstruction aid for the devastated Gaza Strip

Journalists visiting Gaza have described the enclave as resembling an earthquake zone (AFP)
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Friday 13 February 2015 2:00 UTC
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Global envoys, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, gathered in Cairo Sunday in a bid to raise billions to rebuild the devastated Gaza Strip after Israel’s deadly 51- day military offensive in the coastal enclave.

Kerry will lend US backing to efforts to raise up to $4 bn that the Palestinians have asked for to help rebuild Gaza, while also urging Israel and the Palestinians to revive peace talks, with the US already pledging $212 mn to help rebuild the Strip.

"We got to get back to the table and help people make tough choices, real choices ... choices about more than just a ceasefire," Kerry said. "I say clearly and with deep conviction here today that the United States remains fully, totally committed to returning to negotiations not for the sake of it but because the goal of this conference and the future of the region demand it."

However, the drive comes amid widespread concern that any aid to Gaza will eventually be lost in a “cycle of violence”. 

"I think it's very fair to say that there are serious questions being raised by a lot of the donors about... how best to break this cycle," a senior State Department official told reporters before Kerry left Washington.

There has to be reflection about "how best to ensure that we're not going to find ourselves back here doing the same thing again in a year or two".

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also told Israel of the urgent need for a peace deal in his opening remarks to the conference.

“I call on the Israeli people and the government: now is the time to end the conflict…so that prosperity prevails so that we can all have peace and security,” he said, at the one-day conference in Cairo chaired by Egypt and Norway.

Sisi was criticised in some quarters of colluding with Israel and Saudi Arabia in an intelligence triumvirate during the military offensive in July and August.

This summer's conflict killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, while attacks by Gaza militants killed 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

It also left the densely populated enclave in ruins, displacing more than a quarter of Gaza's population of 1.7 million and leaving 100,000 people homeless.

The Palestinian government has unveiled a 76-page reconstruction plan ahead of the conference, also attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The Palestinians have called for $4 bn in aid, with the lion's share to build housing. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has described Gaza's financial needs as "unprecedented".

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the conference that government institutions had been destroyed in Gaza.

“Gaza has suffered three wars in six years,” he said. “Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed…There is a tangible need for funds to bring back government institutions because they have all been destroyed,” he said.

Abbas called on international support for a UN resolution setting a timetable to end the Israeli occupation and told delegates Israel is preventing Palestinians from “benefiting from 60 percent of West Bank lands.”

He himself has come under fire in the wake of the Gaza war, accused of blocking a Palestinian application to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

'Considerable donor fatigue'

It is unclear how generous the world will be in donating to Gaza, given the perceived intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other priorities in the region, such as the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza this summer was their third in six years and diplomats said there is resistance to providing funds that may eventually go to waste.

"We have seen infrastructure projects that we have contributed to which have been destroyed," one Western diplomat in Jerusalem told AFP, adding that there was "considerable donor fatigue".

Given these concerns, Kerry is expected to use his keynote address to again plead for an end to decades of violence between Israel and the Palestinians by reviving peace talks.

Kerry's pursuit of a long-elusive peace treaty collapsed in acrimony in April after a difficult nine-month process, and there is little prospect of fresh talks any time soon.

Israel and the Hamas have yet to even translate their temporary August truce into a long-term ceasefire.

The top US diplomat is due to "talk about the things that we need to do to chart a different course for the future of Gaza, which includes trying to change the fundamental dynamic there," the State Department official told AFP.

He will urge the international community to help "address the underlying issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict writ large in order to really have an enduring solution to the problem in Gaza".

Kerry will meet later on Sunday with Abbas, as Washington seeks to dissuade him from seeking further recognition of the Palestinians at the United Nations.

Some estimates suggest that up to $8 bn will be needed to repair damaged infrastructure and homes, and ensure health care, education and clean drinking water in Gaza.

Washington has already committed some $118 mn, but has not made any pledges of new funds beyond that. European and Gulf nations are expected to make significant pledges, however.

Internal divisions among the Palestinians are also a matter of widespread concern and they have strived to present a united front in advance of the Cairo donors' conference.

On Thursday, a new unity government held its first cabinet meeting in Gaza, months after a reconciliation deal between rivals Fatah, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, which governs Gaza.