Karin Laub
The Los Angeles Times
February 18, 2009 - 1:00am

International donors should send Gaza reconstruction money directly to property owners, the Palestinian prime minister said Wednesday, offering a plan that effectively bypasses the territory's Hamas rulers — his political rivals.

The Islamic militants want a say over how the money is given out. However, the international community is unlikely to hand hundreds of millions of dollars to the militants, still shunned by most of the world. The United States and the European Union consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's detailed proposal will be presented next month at a donor pledging conference for rebuilding Gaza after Israel's devastating offensive against Hamas last month. About 80 countries and organizations will participate March 2 in Egypt.

The offensive caused an estimated $2 billion in damage and killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, Palestinian officials have said. The assault was launched to halt years of Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel.

When asked during an interview Wednesday whether he was trying to bypass Hamas, Fayyad said, "It's a bypass of delays."

Fayyad heads the rival West Bank-based government formed after Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007.

"There are a lot of people in Gaza who are homeless, displaced and we really need to move fast to ensure that they have the housing they need as quickly as possible," he said.

But Hamas accused him of trying to hijack reconstruction for political gain.

"This is an attempt to politicize the project of reconstruction in Gaza, which contradicts all the Arab, international and Palestinian intentions to neutralize this project," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

However, it was not clear whether Hamas would try to stop the flow of aid and risk a backlash at home.

The centerpiece of Fayyad's plan is to send hundreds of millions of dollars in aid directly to owners of thousands of homes that were damaged or destroyed in the Israeli offensive.

Donors would either send the money through Fayyad's government or deal directly with Gaza's banks. Homeowners would apply for reconstruction money, get it through the banks and work under the supervision of independent inspectors.

Fayyad said he expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with Gaza banks Thursday. He said he has also briefed donors, who he said like the idea.

Under Fayyad's plan, even roads would be fixed by private contractors.

The debate over reconstruction comes as Hamas and Fayyad's boss, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, are trying to reach a new power-sharing deal.

Talks were to begin Sunday in Cairo, but Egypt's national news agency reported Wednesday that it had been postponed "for a while" because more consultations are needed. It didn't elaborate.

The announcement came hours after Israel set a series of tough conditions for accepting a proposed cease-fire with Hamas — a major setback to Egypt's efforts at brokering an end to the Gaza crisis.

Egypt is trying to broker two key agreements. One is a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. The other is a reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions.

Any reconstruction plans depend on whether Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of Gaza, imposed after the 2007 Hamas takeover.

Israel's Cabinet said Wednesday it would end the blockade only if the militants free an Israeli soldier they've been holding for nearly three years.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017