‘RECONSTRUCTION WITHOUT HAMAS IS ABSURD’

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 3 Mar 2009

SPIEGEL Online

International donors pledged almost $5 billion in aid on Monday [Mar 2] to help rebuild the Gaza Strip. German commentators warn that the attempt to bypass Hamas and boost political rival Fatah will do little to revive the peace process.

An international conference in Egypt on Monday resulted in $4.48 billion (€3.5 billion) in new pledges to help rebuild the Gaza Strip and fund the Palestinian government. The donors who gathered in the resort of Sharm el-Sheik gave a powerful boost to the moderate Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas while seeking to isolate the militant Hamas movement, which controls Gaza.

At her first major international meeting since taking office, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that the pledges underscored the international community’s confidence in the moderate Palestinian Authority. The US promised $900 million on condition that the money be channelled to Palestinians via Abbas’ government and aid agencies while avoiding Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist group in the West. "We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards and to ensure that our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands," Clinton said.

The Gaza Strip was devastated in a 22-day offensive by the Israeli Army aimed at stopping rockets being fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Hamas, the radical Islamist group that won the Palestinian elections in 2006, has been in full control of Gaza since it ousted Fatah following fierce fighting between the two factions.

Although attendees at the conference tried to show their support for President Abbas and Prime Minister Salman Fayyad, it remained unclear exactly how reconstruction work can begin in Gaza. Israel and Egypt have kept the borders sealed ever since Hamas took over. Although humanitarian supplies can enter, essential rebuilding supplies including cement and other materials cannot.

Many of the delegates from 45 nations at Monday’s conference called for the creation of a Palestinian unity government which would include both Hamas and Fatah. "There will be only limited physical reconstruction without political reconstruction," British Foreign Minister David Milliband told the gathering. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the Palestinians would have to acknowledge that there is "no other road to the creation of a Palestinian state but to engage resolutely in searching for a political solution and engage in a dialogue with Israel."

German newspaper editorials on Tuesday are pretty pessimistic about the effectiveness of the pledged aid, with many wondering how Gaza can be rebuilt without the inclusion of Hamas in the process.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The reconstruction aid will certainly make everyday life a bit easier for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. However, all this money has not so far helped them toward a dignified life in which they can feel free and in control."

"Without a realistic peace plan, the reconstruction aid will be of no use — regardless of whether the Americans, Arabs and Europeans donate €3 billion or even €4 billion. At most, these billions of euros serve to ease consciences and to put off solving the problem."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"As desirable as it may be to fix the huge amount of damage caused by the conflict, the situation is still very uncertain in the region. The rhythm of rocket fire and Israeli retaliation has not been broken, and there is no ceasefire that is worthy of the name."

"The two partners in the so-called peace process, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are not in good shape. While the Palestinians are trying to overcome the divisions caused by their civil war and build a government of national unity … it is still written in the stars when and if this will succeed."

"And the uncertainty when it comes to Israel is at least as great. After a difficult and far from conclusive election on Feb. 10, the country still has no government. … These are not good prospects for stability in the region and for the expenditure of aid that is certainly required. For starters, things would be greatly helped if the vast majority of the foreign aid were to reach those who need it."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Hamas is inevitably going to declare the reconstruction as a victory and take encouragement from it. … Even if the donors do everything to support the moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank — it takes two to tango, as Ronald Reagan once said."

"Humanitarian aid offers humanity and the chance to help the residents of Gaza out of their terrible desperation. However, the calming of the conflict — the word ‘peace’ is too strong — does not lie in paying billions but in the political interest that they are supposed to accrue. And that requires political power — that of the US.

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The question is: How can reconstruction take place in Gaza when the borders are closed, and how can the actual rulers there, Hamas, be excluded from the reconstruction?"

"What was not achieved in the war, namely the weakening of Hamas, is being tried again now: In other words, the donors are trying to use the reconstruction aid to play politics. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rival to Hamas, was invited to the conference while those who pull the strings in Gaza were excluded. …. However, everyone knows that the reconstruction cannot function if Hamas is excluded.

Therefore, the unspoken hope is that the process of reconciliation between the Palestinian factions will end in a unity government of Fatah and Hamas. This would be an elegant way to get the EU and the US out of the dead-end they are in now.

Reconstruction aid could flow to the Fatah part of the government … yet Hamas would be politically involved. The money being pledged would thus have a motivating affect on the Palestinian reconciliation process."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The Western states’ strategy is based on an understandable but fundamental mistake: the exclusion of the radical Islamist Hamas movement since its election victory in 2006. This has greatly hindered reaching a lasting peace in the Middle East."

"The de-facto division into a Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and a Fatah-governed West Bank has greatly reduced the chances of creating a two-state solution."

"It is absurd to now plan the reconstruction of the infrastructure destroyed in the recent military conflict with Israel without Hamas."

"A ‘partial peace’ with the moderate Palestinian president is not going to be a lasting solution. As hard as it may be, Hamas has to be included every step of the way…"

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