The real reason lies in intra-Palestinian violence and intimidation, as the UN and Arab League make clear – yet many NGOs choose to turn a blind eye.
Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister, said: “We will only have peace when our enemies love their children more than they hate ours.” I could not help being reminded of this bitter truism this week when I read a chorus of “pro-Palestinian” voices squarely blaming Israel for the repeated delays to reconstruction in Gaza.
While both the UN and the Arab League have identified the real obstacle to reconstruction as intra-Palestinian violence and intimidation, these voices choose to remain in their traditional comfort zone of pointing at Israel, and Israel alone, as the culpable party.
By electing to obscure the real challenges to reconstruction, these voices are not addressing the problems of Gaza, but instead helping to perpetuate them.
The simplistic narrative presented by numerous NGOs and observers from afar is that Israel is refusing to allow building materials to be imported into the Gaza Strip, and as such is the main barrier to reconstruction in Gaza. Thirty international agencies, in a joint statement issued last week, identified Israel as “the main duty bearer”.
In a separate statement, Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam’s regional director, said: “Only an end to the blockade of Gaza will ensure that people can rebuild their lives.” Speaking in a debate in the House of Commons on the reconstruction of Gaza last week, one MP went further, stating: “Members on either side saying that Israel has kept Gaza supplied, I think people must be living in a parallel world.”
In fact, while Israel has good reason to have concerns about the end use of construction materials in Gaza – vast quantities of imported aid were diverted by Hamas to construct miles of terror attack-tunnels – Israel has cooperated fully with the trilateral Gaza reconstruction mechanism (GRM) established by the UN. To date under this arrangement it has facilitated the entry of over 62,000 tonnes of construction supplies to Gaza. This is corroborated by the Palestinian Authority’s own figures, which confirm that reconstruction is not being constrained by any lack of supply, and that stocks of all key materials, including cement, aggregate, and re-bar (steel), remain in surplus.
If import restrictions aren’t the problem, what is?
At the Cairo conference in October, donors pledged $5.4bn in aid, but the bulk of this commitment remains undelivered, as donors remain unconvinced that Hamas genuinely wants to rebuild Gaza’s homes, and not Gaza’s tunnels. In his briefing to the security council earlier this month, the UN’s under-secretary general, Jeffrey Feltman, cited the delay in the disbursement of international aid as a major obstacle to reconstruction, stating: “Despite the GRM’s continued expansion, four months after the Cairo conference donors have yet to fulfil the vast majority of their pledges. This is frankly unacceptable, and cannot continue if we hope to avoid another escalation in Gaza.”
The second impediment to reconstruction is the failure of Palestinian governance in Gaza. Under the GRM, agreed between the Palestinian Authority, the UN and Israel, the PA bears primary responsibility for coordinating reconstruction, leading both private sector and public sector works. A power struggle for control of the Gaza Strip between Hamas and the PA has degenerated into violence and recriminations, and taken precedence over the rebuilding effort.
The secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, was in no doubt about the cost of this political dispute, telling the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper: “The internal differences and the absence of cooperation between the PA and Hamas are behind the delay in reconstructing the Gaza Strip.” Likewise, Feltman told the security council: “The combination of the failure to rectify the persistent governance and security issues and the slow pace of reconstruction has created an increasingly toxic environment.”
Yet the true obstacles in Gaza – clear to Elaraby and Feltman – are wilfully ignored in the disingenuous comments by foreign aid agencies and legislators. By masking the true causes of paralysis in Gaza, individuals and organisations claiming to be committed to the wellbeing of Palestinian civilians have instead become accessories to the perpetuation of their suffering.