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Frustrations high at Cairo conference as lasting deal on Gaza remains elusive

Total $5.4 bn pledged but Ban warns against making 'conferences such as this a ritual'
Ban and Abbas shake hands as conference delivers $5.4 bn in total aid pledge

CAIRO: Delegates from 50 nations and several multinational organisations met at a plush hotel on the outskirts of Cairo on Sunday, to discuss the reconstruction of Gaza after this summer’s Israeli bombardment of the strip.

According to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, the bombings left over 61,000 homes damaged, leaving around 100,000 homeless and displacing another several hundred thousand residents.

“Infrastructure, public facilities, private sector establishments were massively damaged, including the only electricity generation plant in the Strip. Not to mention the Water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunication, and transportation networks” Abbas said to the conference.
The Israeli bombardment of the Gaza strip caused $7.8 bn dollars in damage, according to the PA, and it could take as long as twenty years rebuild houses, restore utility systems, and restore Gaza’s economy and schools. The PA asked the attending nations and organisations for $4 bn while the UNRWA asked for $1.6 bn.

But despite the obvious need, donor responses have varied, with some diplomats complaining of “fatigue” and saying that they were hesitant to commit to a large rebuilding project, until a lasting peace solution was found.

At the conference, private grumblings could be heard from delegates frustrated at the grim familiarity of the reconstruction meet – this being the third edition many had attended in six years. The sense of irritation filtered through to the very top echelons of global policy-making with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also slamming the reconstruction “ritual.”

“I do not want my successors or yours to make conferences such as this a ritual: building and destroying- and then expecting the international community to foot the bill,” Ban said.

“Gaza remains a tinderbox” Ban said. “We must not lose sight of the root causes of the recent hostilities: a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations”.

The outgoing High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton also voiced concerns.
“This must be the last time in which the international community is called upon to rebuild Gaza. There cannot be a return to the status quo, which has proved unsustainable”, said Ashton.

“Our efforts for Gaza will be successful only if placed in the larger framework of our support to Palestine and our commitment to the peace process”.

While the conference mainly addressed the need for money to rebuild Gaza’s homes and utilities, delegates were all too aware that the process of reconstruction had to extend beyond the physical reconstruction of the strip into a serious conversation on a sustainable political solution.

Shawky al-Issa, Palestinian Minister of Agriculture and Social Affaires told the Middle East Eye that the PA was primarily angling for political, rather than merely economic support.

“We welcome the economical help, but more important is the political support. Everyone has to work to end with the root of this problem, which is the occupation, and pressure Israel. Everyone agrees on that”, said Issa. “We have a lot of restrictions of movement to implement our projects. We need pressure to Israel to enable us to work. That's what we need.”

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president also spoke of the need of a longer lasting deal and called on Israel to end the siege of Gaza.

However, despite Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce Sisi’s role in the conflict is seen as controversial with opponents accusing him of siding with Israel during the latest conflict. Since the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt has engaged in a widespread campaign to destroy the smuggling tunnels in North Sinai, a vital lifeline to Gaza, and kept the Rafah border closed, even as Gaza bore the brunt of Israeli shelling.

Notable absences?

Despite talks of opening a dialogue between Israel and Palestine, delegates from both Hamas and Israel, the two parties involved in the fighting this summer, were notably absent.

Most delegates stressed the importance of the Unity Government - the coalition formed in June 2014 that unified the Hamas and PA - but there were no direct mentioned Hamas by name, despite it being the driving political force in Gaza.

Egypt has long rejected Hamas, in part for it’s connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, but also for its involvement in the countries weapons trade, smuggling and violence in the Northern Sinai.
“It's not only about money it's a question of political will. We have to solve this in a long lasting way. Palestinian Unity government is a must. Also, we cannot do it without Israel,” said Jesus Manuel Gracia Aldaz Secretary of International Cooperation of Spain.

For all the objections and concerns about political fragility, however, the conference managed to raise a total $5.4 bn - half of which will go to rebuilding Gaza and the rest that will be spent on the ‘necessities of the Palestinian people’.

While the US pledged $212 mn and the EU $560 mn, Turkey, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates all pledged a further $200 mn each. The fund was given its biggest boost by Qatar which pledged $1bn.

Shawky told MEE that the Palestinian delegation was “surprised by the donation”.

Attention will now turn to the delivery of these pledges, which can often be slow to materialize, and the ability of supplies and aid to enter Gaza that remains under a fierce Israeli blockade.

Earlier announcements by the PA that it would take back control of Gaza’s border crossings today – a key Israeli demand for easing its blockade - appear to have come to nothing as yet, with confusion rife about whether the latest war and the reconstruction conference will help bring about a more lasting solution.

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