Close to 30 countries have pledged a total of $5.4 billion to help the Gaza Strip recover from the devastation dealt by Israeli artillery and armor in July and August. The promise of massive aid casts a ray of hope on the Palestinian enclave that has been trying to recover from the trauma of war.
Israel unleashed its military might on Gaza after rockets fired by Hamas militants rained down on Israeli border communities. For 50 days, Israeli troops and tanks reduced buildings into rubble as they tried to ferret out determined Hamas fighters. When they finally pulled out, almost all of Gaza was in ruins. Nearly 2,200 Palestinians, many of them civilians, were dead. A quarter of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents lost their homes. Its economy was in tatters.
The United Nations had alerted the world to the desolation in Gaza, warning of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis if no help arrives. The Vatican followed up with its own appeal. But few countries responded to the call, perhaps because the world’s attention was focused on bigger, more urgent concerns.
Last week, Norway hosted a conference to address the Gaza situation, at the end of which US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $5.4-billion pledge. It was $1.4 billion more than what the Palestinians had earlier asked.
Washington was the single biggest donor, promising $212 million. European Union member states pledged 450 million euros, and the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, $200 million each.
Mr. Kerry underlined the urgency in getting Gaza back on its feet, saying its people “do need our help, desperately, not tomorrow, not next week, they need it now.”
Raising the money is the easy part. The real challenge is making sure it goes to where it is needed most. The Palestinian Authority plans to spend almost half of the pledges to rebuilding houses. The UN, which will be deeply involved in the reconstruction of Gaza, plans to spend $1.6 billion on refugee aid.
Bringing the humanitarian assistance into Gaza will be a political challenge as well. Israel has not lifted the blockade it clamped on Gaza in 2006. It was not invited to the donor conference, and that could present problems. “Gaza cannot be rebuilt without the cooperation and participation of Israel,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stressed. The Israelis have always been wary of aid deliveries to Gaza, believing they could be diverted and used instead to strengthen Hamas’ military capabilities.
Washington is in the best position to iron out this kink with Israel. At the donor conference Mr. Kerry renewed his call for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations which the US had tried but failed to broker.
“Ceasefire is not peace,” Mr. Kerry said. “We got to get back to the table and help people make tough choices, real choices … choices about more than just a ceasefire.”
Hamas must also step up, and mend fences with its rival, Fatah, if reconstruction efforts are to succeed. The two factions have been at each other’s throats since 2007, with Hamas exerting control in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.
The icy relations between the two groups could thaw soon. Last week, Hamas and Fatah members of the Palestinian Authority cabinet met in a “historic” step towards reconciliation.
All these developments bode well for Gaza. But we should keep in mind that time is of the essence here. We agree with Mr. Kerry that the world must act now. Any delay could have dire consequences. Desperation could drive Gazans into embracing the militants’ campaign to destroy Israel.
It that happens, the painstaking efforts to rebuild Gaza would be wasted, and peace in the region would become more elusive.