Daoud Kuttab
The Jordan Times
March 5, 2009 - 1:00am

A resounding and unanimous international message of support for Gaza reconstruction was sounded in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh on March 2. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were joined at the conference by foreign ministers as well as representatives of regional and international organisations and foundations.

Ironically two key groups were absent from the meeting: Israel and Hamas.

The international nature of the conference was obvious not only in the many nationalities and languages present, but also in much of the terminology applied.

France’s president said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a regional but an international conflict. The post-World War II Marshall Plan was mentioned by a number of European speakers as an example of the international community’s response to a region after war.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke about putting Palestine and the Palestinian economy on the agenda of the next G-8, as well as of the G-14 meetings. He offered his dream of setting up an international Palestinian airport, building hotels and bringing millions of tourists, especially Christian pilgrims to Palestine.

The Gaza reconstruction conference was the first meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended in her new capacity, which meant that she was even more in demand by visiting delegations and by the local and international press. What was on everyone’s mind is how the new secretary will deal with some of the larger issues that are of concern to the region, specifically Hamas, as well as how much she will press Israel. Judging by her public statements, she clearly showed support of an energetic policy that will bring about a comprehensive peace.

But while she declared that every Palestinian has a right and deserve a normal life, Hamas was still an untouchable subject; some holes appeared nevertheless in the US wall of rejection.

The meeting was also the first chance for the Obama administration to reconnect with fellow Quartet members.

George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, opened the closed meeting with a summary of the critical humanitarian situation. A senior State Department source said that Mitchell stressed the need for consolidating the ceasefire in Gaza and the need to support Palestinian unity in the context of the two-state solution.

But while the money raised for Gaza has been impressive, it is a long way before all (even if it is actually delivered) will reach the people of Gaza.

The funds pledged for Gaza reconstruction come with a number of conditions, among them the one articulated by Clinton who made it clear that the money earmarked for Gaza reconstruction must not get into the hands of Hamas.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad noted that the problem lies squarely with the Israelis.

“We have created an acceptable mechanism for channelling the money into Gaza, all we need is for the Israelis to give us access.”

The Palestinian prime minister wants the Israelis to radically reverse their policies. Israelis now limit what is allowed into Gaza to a handful of things when all civilian needs should be allowed into Gaza, he said.

For the people of Gaza, however, much of the discussions at the Sharm El Sheikh conference are nothing more than hot air. They need to see evidence of change on the ground before they can smile again.

Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere were not looking for promises and pledges of money only. They have been waiting for political change which can guarantee that what is rebuilt will stand and not be destroyed again. Otherwise, in a year of two, the international community will be asked to come together once again and make yet another round of financial pledges for another reconstruction.


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