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Arab Israel Conflict
Gaza reconstruction stalls amid feuding
From the Financial Times of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:28:00 GMT

The attackers struck at night, planting a bomb in Fayez Abu Eita’s garage. When the device exploded, it shattered windows and reduced the Fatah official’s car to a smouldering wreck.

“Whoever did this definitely doesn’t want reconciliation to happen,” says Mr Abu Eita, flipping through pictures of the damage on his phone.

The November 7 blast was one of more than 10 to hit the homes of members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip. This has led to accusations — as yet unproved — that its political rival Hamas was to blame.

It was one of several signs that a delicate postwar arrangement to rebuild the enclave, predicated on reconciliation between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the territory, and secular Fatah, has failed.

This deterioration in relations between the Palestinian factions, coupled with renewed tensions with Israel has convinced many on both sides that the countdown to a new conflict has begun. Over the weekend Israel responded to a rocket attack from Gaza by launching its first air strike against the territory since the war this summer.

Last week Hamas allowed thousands of supporters of Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled Fatah figure and arch-rival of Mr Abbas, to rally in Gaza City in an open snub to Mr Abbas’s Ramallah-based government in the occupied West Bank. Mr Dahlan’s supporters hung posters showing Mr Abbas in a noose and accusing him of “marginalising Gaza”.

Operation Protective Edge, the most destructive of three Israeli military campaigns against Hamas since 2009, killed more than 2,100 Palestinians over 50 days in July and August, damaged or destroyed thousands of buildings and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

When international donors in October pledged $5.4bn to rebuild Gaza, reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah — which split violently in 2007 — was meant to be the cornerstone of the plan. Donors, cynical about rebuilding Gaza for a third time in less than five years, hoped the two groups would forge common cause to implement a politically popular, multibillion-dollar rebuilding programme.

However, Fatah and Hamas have publicly bickered and failed to work together effectively in Gaza. Mr Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has not yet taken charge of policing the strip’s borders with Egypt and Israel – an arrangement meant to give Israel and donors comfort that Hamas would not divert “dual use” construction items to rebuild its tunnels and other infrastructure that could be used against Israel.

Since the war’s end Egypt has tightened its control of the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s main transit point to the outside world. With parts of western and northern Gaza still in rubble, building materials are coming in slowly, although the pace has picked up in recent weeks.

“There has been some easing of the closure since the end of the fighting, but the changes have fallen far short of what is needed to undo the paralysis of the economy and the physical deterioration of Gaza,” says Sari Bashi, co-founder of Gisha, an Israeli human rights group.

According to Gisha, in the four months from the end of the war to December 20, 130,000 tons of construction materials entered Gaza – a fraction of the 5m tons it says is needed to rebuild, and the additional 5m tons building companies would import for ordinary use.

Yet Palestinians and some analysts say that Israel’s stringent rules governing construction imports, devised in consultation with the UN, will not prevent Hamas from rebuilding tunnels used for military operations, as it has some materials in reserve and can also recycle rubble.

They also argue that Mr Abbas’ Palestinian Authority – not Israel – is largely to blame for the delay in bringing building supplies.

“The Palestinian Authority is not forwarding requests to Israeli authorities at a pace necessary for construction materials to enter Gaza,” says Celine Touboul, deputy director-general of the Economic Cooperation Foundation, an Israeli think-tank that follows events in Gaza.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior Fatah official, acknowledged last week that steps towards reconciliation between the two estranged groups were “not enough”, and that the reconstruction of Gaza was “stuck”.

Under a deal reached in April between Fatah and Hamas, the rival factions were to merge Gaza’s civil services and security forces under Ramallah’s leadership

However, analysts say the Palestinian Authority is unwilling to take responsibility for paying former Hamas government employees because of its own financial difficulties and is delaying the merger in order to put pressure on its Islamist rival.

“The position of Abbas and Fatah seems to be: ‘We are not moving in Gaza until Hamas totally surrenders.’” says Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

A senior Hamas official blamed the slow pace of reconstruction on Israel’s cumbersome process for approving building material imports, and Ramallah for not taking control of Gaza’s borders.

“We have no problem: they can come tomorrow and take all the borders,” says Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government. He said only about $175m of the $5.4bn in rebuilding aid pledged by donors had arrived.

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