The Hamas claim of victory in last summer’s conflict with Israel was based largely on the associated claim that life in Gaza would now change to the great benefit of the people living there. A vast reconstruction program would commence almost immediately.
But now it’s October, and there has been no reconstruction. An Associated Press story tells the tale:
More than five weeks after the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged in the fighting still live in classrooms, storefronts and other crowded shelters. In some of the hardest-hit areas, the displaced have pitched tents next to the debris that once was their homes....reconstruction efforts appear stymied by a continued Israeli-Egyptian border blockade of Gaza and an unresolved power struggle between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas....Skepticism about rebuilding efforts is widespread in Gaza. The recent 50-day war was the third in the territory in just over five years. Many homes destroyed in previous fighting still haven’t been rebuilt.
There are at least two main issues. First, Egypt and Israel want to be sure that construction materials do not go to Hamas for its construction of tunnels, arms depots, and other means of making war rather than for building homes, schools, and the like. They also want to be sure that Hamas does not smuggle in arms and ammunition. This means the establishment of a border control regime and some way of identifying end users inside Gaza. Second, the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah (or the Palestinian Authority--same thing) continues.
On October 12 in Cairo, at an international conference on rebuilding Gaza, PA president Mahmoud Abbas will ask for $4 billion in pledges. He may get some pledges; cash is a different story. Many donors are wary of corruption in the PA and in Hamas, and fear Hamas efforts to divert funds and materials to illicit terrorist uses. Donors from the EU have made some foolish statements about how tired they are of paying for reconstruction of buildings that Israel then bombs, and appear to be seeking some Israeli promise never to strike Gaza again. This is impossible, because Hamas remains in charge in Gaza and may well decide to launch fusillades of mortars and rockets into Israel again, hiding as it usually does within, behind, and under civilian facilities such as houses, mosques, and hospitals. If this happens Israel will respond, so the kind of pledge some European donors have been seeking is impossible to give. Hamas has chosen war several times before and may well choose it again.
The central problem is that Hamas is still running Gaza. The new Palestinian "technocratic" government is not yet functioning, at least in the sense that it, and the PA, are actually in charge. No doubt Hamas would be happy to see lots of money coming into Gaza, and a deal has apparently been struck under which the PA will pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza with new Qatari money, as well as continuing to pay its own. This deal is supposed to exclude terrorists, ie the so-called Hamas "armed wing," but who will really keep track? No doubt Hamas would be happy to see and take credit for a vast reconstruction program, and to allow PA agents to sit in border posts. But will it disband its own police and military forces? Will anyone in Gaza really believe the PA is in control, including the PA’s own agents? Will any Palestinian really raise a challenge when he or she sees diversion of material by Hamas, knowing that death could be the price to pay?
Misery in Gaza is not in Israel’s interest nor that of Egypt, nor nowadays that of Hamas. There is a very widespread desire to alleviate the suffering in Gaza and begin reconstruction. But the practical problems are great, and reflect justifiable convictions that Hamas will take any opportunity to rebuild its own strength as its top priority, much more important to it than the mere reconstruction of houses and apartments. The skepticism on the part of Gazans reflects reality. As long as Hamas is in power in Gaza, reconstruction will be slow--and another round of conflict with Israel is quite possible.