Rebuilding Gaza

The extent of destruction in Gaza is yet to be determined, but it will clearly require a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction program. The question is not whether such an effort will be undertaken, but who will lead it, and what its political impact will be. The United States has much to gain by being in the forefront of those efforts.

Many are already positioning themselves to claim credit. While some are motivated by humanitarian concerns, others see an opportunity to gain political points for themselves and Hamas. Rhetoric is cheap, but Palestinians in Gaza need water, electricity, improved livelihoods, and, the realistic hope for a better future.

{mosads}The United States has the resources, skills, and interests at stake to lead.  But leading does not mean monopolizing. We are more likely to succeed working alongside partners from Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Europe and other stakeholders, and with Palestinians and Israelis on the ground. Regional dynamics now provide more willing players who share U.S. interests. If the United States fails to step up, others will fill the void and reap the political benefits.

Ensuring that the temporary shelters are in place, that children can go to school come September, that basic water and electricity service can be resumed are immediate, essential needs. But failure to integrate this crisis response into a broader international framework will invariably replicate the dynamic that has contributed to the eruption of three wars in Gaza.

This requires purposeful aid that meets Palestinians’ needs in Gaza, denies Hamas and its sponsors political credit for reconstruction, reinvigorates Palestinian reform and supports the US policy objectives in the region, including the realization of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Such a framework needs to safeguard Israel’s and Egypt’s security concerns, by ensuring not only that Hamas is denied an opportunity to rearm, but also that commodities meant for the population of Gaza are not diverted for Hamas’ use. But if tangible benefits – such as water for drinking and bathing, lighting, computers, and the ability to send children to school without fear – were the result of local, regional and international cooperation, we might also be laying groundwork for much-needed progress on peace negotiations.

There are important lessons gleaned from recent efforts that can be adopted and developed for Gaza, particularly with respect to water and electricity, such as expertise of the surviving water multi-lateral entity: the Middle East Desalination Research Center.

Reconstruction implementation should be led by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Reintroducing the PA into Gaza is important in terms of reunifying the Palestinian polity. It would also increase the chances for Palestinians and Israelis alike to gain reliable fixtures of a daily life.. The PA should take greater responsibility for governance in Gaza.  It is not enough to only introduce the PA into discrete locations like border crossings. It must be seen as a governing actor providing a wide range of public benefits and services.

The PA is capable.. Its experience in working with international donors  to provide education, health-care, and other basic services in the West Bank should be put to use in Gaza. There is also a solid track record to build on. Even during Hamas rule, the PA has continued, with Israel, to provide electricity and certain other services to the people of Gaza and to work with the Gaza Coastal Water Authority. The PA’s capacity can be improved in partnership with the World Bank, the UN, and USAID to identify local partners in Gaza to implement necessary humanitarian projects as quickly and effectively as possible.

Infrastructure and governance efforts should be approached as a whole for both Gaza and the West Bank.  The bulk of the focus of the current reconstruction efforts will be on Gaza. However, these efforts need to extend to comparable sectors in the West Bank such as water and electricity. This will strengthen the PA’s standing as the governing body of all Palestinians and reaffirm Palestinian national unity. 

However, if PA-led construction is marred by corruption and inefficiency, the effort will backfire. This occurred in the 1990s, when corruption surrounding Western aid to the PA was perceived as pervasive, by Palestinians.   Under such circumstances, the public will generally assume that whoever provides funding is fully aware and tolerant of corruption and mismanagement. As the international community embarks on designing, funding and coordinating such a massive effort, it must insist on PA accountability and transparency.

This framework understanding, conceived wisely and implemented effectively, will mean that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Israelis, have a much greater sense in the near term not only that basic needs are being met, but that they can see a future that promises security, stability, and opportunity. That new sense of hope based on cooperation will benefit everyone.

Al-Omari, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, is a former adviser to the Palestinian president and the Palestinian negotiating team. Rudman, a principal at Quorum Strategies, LLC, was a U.S. deputy envoy for Middle East Peace from 2009-2011.


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