Monday, March 2, 2009

Billions Pledged for Gaza at Donors' Conference, But How Will It Get There?

Relief Web, March 2, 2009 - As the sun set over the mountains ringing the Egyptian resort city of Sharm al-Sheikh on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had reason to feel gratified.

Delegates from 75 donor countries pledged some 4.48 billion dollars over the course of a conference on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after Israel's 22-day offensive in late December and January.

World leaders praised Abbas and Acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as "responsible partners." They stressed that they would take pains not to deliver the aid to Abbas' Palestinian rivals in Hamas, who have controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Persian Gulf states said that the collective 1.6 billion dollars they were contributing would go to a fund they would administer directly, but otherwise, the Palestinian president would remain the world's main contact for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, beginning her first trip to the region as US secretary of state, on Monday said the United States had "worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is intended, and does not end up in the wrong hands," in a pointed reference to Hamas.

Perhaps Abbas might have taken comfort too from the singular criticism donors levelled at Israel. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, presenting the conference's conclusions, said that "participants stressed the crucial need to break the cycle of construction and destruction in Gaza, and demanded that Israel fully respect its obligations under international law."

It was a recurring theme from the donors.

"As a friend of the Palestinians and a friend of Israel, and as a donor, I can say that donors are faced with a dilemma," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who co-chaired the conference, told reporters. "Will we again rebuild what ... we built just a few years ago?"

And German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "We hope that what will now be built will not be destroyed again."

But while the conference was surely good news for Abbas, for the Palestinian people, and for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip in particular, as the day closed it was unclear how all the billions of dollars in aid would actually reach the people of Gaza...

See also: For Gaza's Sake This Can't Be Just Another Summit (Opinion, The National, March 2, 2009)

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