Money isn’t everything

Makeshift home in Gaza. Photo by Karl Schembri

Makeshift home in Gaza. Photo by Karl Schembri

October 14, 2014. An international conference for Gaza reconstruction opened on Sunday in Cairo with foreign ministers from more than 30 countries in attendance. Who was absent? Possibly the most significant player in the huge shift that could be underway – Israel.

Foreign ministers from more than ten European Union member states, along with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the US Secretary of State, took part in an international conference for Gaza reconstruction which opened on Sunday in Cairo. The UN Secretary General and the president of the Palestinian Authority were also guests of the Egyptian president at the conference, whose aim was to raise funds and harness commitments from the international community for rebuilding Gaza. The Palestinian government estimates it will take some 4 billion dollars just to repair the damage caused during Operation Protective Edge.

Though Israel did not participate in the conference, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated the obvious when he said: “You can’t reconstruct Gaza without Israeli participation and without Israeli cooperation”. Even if all the needed funds are raised, Gaza’s rehabilitation still depends on Israel’s cooperation – for bringing in construction materials, to name just one minor detail. It is estimated that Gaza needs more than 15 million tons of construction materials, about 4 million of them to rebuild or repair structures damaged during the hostilities this past summer.

Gaza is short at least 97,000 housing units. In addition to a long-standing shortage of about 75,000 units, about 17,000 units were destroyed or badly damaged during Operation Protective Edge, and 5,000 more were destroyed in previous military operations and have not yet been rebuilt. Gaza also needs to rebuild factories, hospitals, clinics and workshops, and new buildings are also needed. Shipping these quantities of construction materials requires an efficient and expeditious coordination mechanism.

Gaza’s reconstruction means giving it a chance to severe its dependence on foreign aid and allowing its population to lead normal lives. It also requires lifting the prohibition on the sale of Gaza-made and grown goods in the West Bank and Israel, allowing students and business people to travel according to their needs, and letting families unite. With top military officials now admitting that the closure policy was a mistake, it looks like the beginning of a shift in the right direction, at least as far as rhetoric goes. Money is key, and reconstruction will be expensive, but if the gap isn’t closed between nice rhetoric about the closure needing to end and its actual implementation on the ground, the words “Gaza reconstruction” won’t be worth more than the fancy conference paper they’re written on.