Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

US$5.4 Billion Pledged for Gaza

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Update from AIJAC

Oct. 15, 2014
Number 10/14 #03

This Update deals with the international donors conference for Gaza that took place in Cairo on Sunday, and led to pledges of US$5.4 billion in money to be divided equally between Gaza reconstruction and the Palestinian Authority.

We lead with a critique of the likely effects of the conference from veteran Israeli Arab Affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Toameh argues that despite the promises to funnel the money through the Palestinian Authority (PA), the donors are nonetheless empowering Hamas, which will benefit politically from the money and be able to use its other resources to dig tunnels and rebuild weapons. He gives a lot of details about what was promised but notes the key mistake of the donors was "failing to demand the disarmament of Hamas as a precondition for funnelling aid to the Gaza Strip." For his complete analysis of how what they have done will benefit Hamas, CLICK HERE. More on the danger of naively rebuilding Hamas while rebuilding Gaza from Israeli columnist Boaz Bismuth.

Next up is former senior American official dealing with the Middle East Elliot Abrams who, in a piece written before the conference convened, discusses the complexities which explain why the reconstructing Gaza has been, and is likely to continue to be, slow, difficult and fraught. He notes that the central difficulty is that Hamas is still running Gaza and despite the illusions of a "unity government" - which Abu Toameh also discusses - relations with the PA remain poisonous,  and both will be manoeuvring to use the aid to their own advantage as essential but difficult issues like border arrangements and salaries for Hamas and PA civil servants are discussed - even as Egypt and Israel are determined to keep Hamas from re-arming. Meanwhile, he also importantly points out that pledges are not the same thing as aid, and in the past alleged pledges to the PA, especially from Arab countries, have often failed to be turned into real cash. For Abrams' full discussion,  CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Gazans are reportedly sceptical that much reconstruction aid will ever reach them.

Finally, Israeli academics Kobi Michael puts the debate about aiding Gaza into a wider regional context - especially in terms of the reality of the a growing confluence of interests between Israel and the moderate Sunni Arab states in the face of spreading Islamist extremism. He notes that Sunni states want to weaken Hamas and strengthen the PA, which is also in Israel's interests, and he proposes that a reversal of the formula of the 2002 Arab peace initiative - which proposed to offer Israel recognition and relations in exchange for first granting Palestinian statehood - could be path to allow rebuilding Gaza and marginalising Hamas. What Michael proposes is that Israel-Arab relations - though perhaps not formal ones -  be established to create a coalition that will create the conditions for creating a Palestinian state by taking over the rebuilding of Gaza and removing Hamas and its allies - Qatar, Turkey and Iran - from the process. For all the details of Dr. Michael's argument, CLICK HERE.

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How the Donors Saved Hamas

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Rebuilding Gaza Starts Slowly–Very Slowly

by Elliott Abrams

Council on Foreign Relations "Pressure Points" blog, October 10, 2014

The Hamas claim of victory in last summer’s conflict with Israel was based largely on the associated claim that life in Gaza would now change to the great benefit of the people living there. A vast reconstruction program would commence almost immediately.

But now it’s October, and there has been no reconstruction. An Associated Press story tells the tale:

More than five weeks after the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the fighting still live in classrooms, storefronts and other crowded shelters. In some of the hardest-hit areas, the displaced have pitched tents next to the debris that once was their homes….reconstruction efforts appear stymied by a continued Israeli-Egyptian border blockade of Gaza and an unresolved power struggle between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas….Skepticism about rebuilding efforts is widespread in Gaza. The recent 50-day war was the third in the territory in just over five years. Many homes destroyed in previous fighting still haven’t been rebuilt.

There are at least two main issues. First, Egypt and Israel want to be sure that construction materials do not go to Hamas for its construction of tunnels, arms depots, and other means of making war rather than for building homes, schools, and the like. They also want to be sure that Hamas does not smuggle in arms and ammunition. This means the establishment of a border control regime and some way of identifying end users inside Gaza. Second, the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah (or the Palestinian Authority–same thing) continues.

On October 12 in Cairo, at an international conference on rebuilding Gaza, PA president Mahmoud Abbas will ask for $4 billion in pledges. He may get some pledges; cash is a different story. Many donors are wary of corruption in the PA and in Hamas, and fear Hamas efforts to divert funds and materials to illicit terrorist uses. Donors from the EU have made some foolish statements about how tired they are of paying for reconstruction of buildings that Israel then bombs, and appear to be seeking some Israeli promise never to strike Gaza again. This is impossible, because Hamas remains in charge in Gaza and may well decide to launch fusillades of mortars and rockets into Israel again, hiding as it usually does within, behind, and under civilian facilities such as houses, mosques, and hospitals. If this happens Israel will respond, so the kind of pledge some European donors have been seeking is impossible to give. Hamas has chosen war several times before and may well choose it again.

The central problem is that Hamas is still running Gaza. The new Palestinian “technocratic” government is not yet functioning, at least in the sense that it, and the PA, are actually in charge. No doubt Hamas would be happy to see lots of money coming into Gaza, and a deal has apparently been struck under which the PA will pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza with new Qatari money, as well as continuing to pay its own. This deal is supposed to exclude terrorists, ie the so-called Hamas “armed wing,” but who will really keep track? No doubt Hamas would be happy to see and take credit for a vast reconstruction program, and to allow PA agents to sit in border posts. But will it disband its own police and military forces? Will anyone in Gaza really believe the PA is in control, including the PA’s own agents? Will any Palestinian really raise a challenge when he or she sees diversion of material by Hamas, knowing that death could be the price to pay?

Misery in Gaza is not in Israel’s interest nor that of Egypt, nor nowadays that of Hamas. There is a very widespread desire to alleviate the suffering in Gaza and begin reconstruction. But the practical problems are great, and reflect justifiable convictions that Hamas will take any opportunity to rebuild its own strength as its top priority, much more important to it than the mere reconstruction of houses and apartments. The skepticism on the part of Gazans reflects reality. As long as Hamas is in power in Gaza, reconstruction will be slow–and another round of conflict with Israel is quite possible.

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The Arab Peace Initiative: Reversing the Direction

Kobi Michael

INSS Insight No. 614, October 8, 2014

In the current Middle East reality, the foundation for strategic interests common to the area’s so-called pragmatic nations, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has grown. These interests are also shared by Israel. The Arab Peace Initiative could emerge as a conceptual and operational basis for realizing two shared strategic interests: weakening Hamas and foiling the threat posed by ISIS. As such, a regional coalition based on shared strategic interests can be formed on the basis of the seminal idea behind the Arab Peace Initiative to help lay the foundation for a regional security regime based on intelligence and military cooperation. This regional coalition could remain relevant even after the establishment of the Palestinian state and continue to be the foundation for coordinated action against common challenges.

Operation Protective Edge and the entrenchment of ISIS after it declared the territory under its control an Islamic state have changed the Middle East map of interests and alliances. For regional players other than Qatar and Turkey, Hamas represents the political and security threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. As to ISIS, its establishment of an “Islamic state” in the region under its control in northwest Iraq and northeast Syria, in effect erasing the border between the two countries, threatens other regimes and states in the area through murder, intimidation, and a sophisticated media strategy, which also serves as a tool to recruit volunteers from the region and elsewhere.

In the Middle East reality formed in the shadow of these developments, the foundation for strategic interests common to the area’s so-called pragmatic nations, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has grown. These interests are also shared by Israel. Hamas, supported mainly by Turkey and Qatar (though it appears that Doha’s support will become more veiled given the risk that the United States will try to cancel Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup and Saudi Arabia’s harsher threats), has become a nuisance, even threat, to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. It appears that Israel too is reconsidering its moves vis-à-vis Hamas, the organization that until not long ago Israel viewed as the preferred governing entity in the Gaza Strip responsible for the welfare of the civilian population – on condition it was militarily weakened and deterred.

The outcome of Operation Protective Edge has changed the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip from a humanitarian necessity to a strategic imperative for Israel and the PA, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Clearly the long awaited stability in the Gaza arena will not be attained without widespread reconstruction, and reconstruction in turn is meant to improve the chances of restarting the political process between Israel and the Palestinians. Reconstruction is similar in scope to state building, but Hamas – unless it becomes the local entity to lead the project with the region’s nations and the international community – will likely become the spoiler, because it has no intention of giving up its control of the area and disarming, as military force is both a critical component of its strength in the Gaza Strip and a strategic asset in its struggle to control the greater Palestinian arena.

From Hamas’ perspective, reconstruction of the Gaza Strip without its inclusion and input is liable to weaken its status and powerbase. In this reality, therefore, the PA will find it difficult to serve as the major axis in the complex reconstruction effort. Representatives of the international community will also be hard pressed to execute a reconstruction process by virtue of an international mandate or other arrangement. The outcome will then be limited humanitarian aid to Gaza residents rather than fundamental reconstruction, which will then accelerate the conditions for another outbreak of violence. In turn, the status of Mahmoud Abbas and the PA will continue to flounder, and their base of public support will continue to shrink (since Operation Protective Edge, Palestinian public opinion polls have shown growing support for Hamas and decreasing support for Fatah and Abbas). Furthermore, undermining the reconstruction process will be seen as a victory for the Hamas-Qatar-Turkey axis. Therefore, the essence of the interest shared by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, and the PA is weakening Hamas and neutralizing its negative influence on the Gaza Strip reconstruction project.

Concurrently, the pragmatic camp in the Middle East faces the threat of radical fundamentalist Islam in the form of ISIS. The nature of the organization, which has declared the establishment of a state and is working to institute it in practice, poses a real threat to the stability of Arab nations in the region and also represents the threat of showcase terrorist brutality to Western nations. ISIS’s proven ability to recruit volunteers and repatriate them in their countries of origin after military and terrorist training, as well as other multiple arenas of the organization’s activities and guerrilla operations in the so-called Islamic State and nearby areas, demands intelligence and operational cooperation to foil the threat.

The Arab Peace Initiative could emerge as a conceptual and operational basis for realizing two shared strategic interests: weakening Hamas and foiling the threat posed by ISIS. For that to happen, it is necessary to agree that it serve as the foundation for negotiations between Israel and the pragmatic Arab nations rather than a diktat that must be accepted without negotiations. It is also worth considering reversing the direction suggested by the initiative.

The essence of the initiative in its current formulation is recognition of the legitimacy of Israel’s existence in the region and the forming of relations between Israel and the Arab states following the establishment of a Palestinian state (under the conditions defined by the initiative). Yet because the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of an agreement would be the result of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and because Mahmoud Abbas led the establishment of a reconciliation unity government also in charge of the Gaza Strip, the establishment of a Palestinian state must be made conditional on the PA’s effective control of the Gaza Strip based on Oslo Agreement principles. This is only possible as part of the Gaza Strip’s comprehensive and basic reconstruction and the concurrent weakening of Hamas’ military capabilities and infrastructures and the neutralization of Hamas’s ability to challenge the PA. To improve the feasibility of fundamental reconstruction and to continue to weaken Hamas militarily and neutralize the Muslim Brotherhood, which also receives support from Qatar and Turkey, a regional coalition based on shared strategic interests must be formed.

Such a coalition can be formed on the basis of the seminal idea behind the Arab Peace Initiative and allow the laying of the foundation for a regional security regime based on intelligence and military cooperation. Its establishment and long-term cooperation ensuring the success of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and improving chances for confronting jihadist organizations in the region could strengthen Israel’s trust in security arrangements in the envelope of the future Palestinian state and allow greater leeway in its Israel’s security demands, some of which are viewed by the Palestinians as hindering the breakthrough to a peace settlement. This regional coalition could remain relevant even after the establishment of the Palestinian state and continue to be the base for coordinated action against common challenges.

It would therefore be wise to consider changing the direction of the Arab initiative: establishing a coalition that includes Israel in order to improve the chances for an effective political process between Israel and the Palestinians. This, however, does not mean abandoning the political process with the Palestinians before such a coalition comes into existence. Israel must work to make incremental, cautious, and responsible progress toward the establishment of a functional, responsible Palestinian state that can assimilate into the region-in-the-making and in turn become another cornerstone of the region’s security regime. A regional security regime based on cooperation between Israel and the nations of the pragmatic camp – even without full diplomatic relations at first, though with the pragmatic camp’s recognition of Israel’s regional importance, its contribution to regional development, and especially its right to be a legitimate part of the region – can be a formative step leading to a more secure and prosperous region representing a sounder and safer alternative to the chaos rampant in much of the Middle East.

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