Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gaza faces "economic siege" over re-building

By Patrick Cockburn

Rebuilding will take place in a 360sq km enclave that is packed with 1.5 million Palestinians, of whom 70 per cent are from refugee families expelled from Israel during the creation of the state. More than a million are already receiving UN food supplies.

The initial assessment is that 20,000 homes lived in by 120,000 people have been somewhat damaged and can be patched up so they are habitable again. The 4000 homes that have been destroyed cannot be rebuilt because Israel is refusing to let construction materials cross the border into Gaza.

Israel, the US and their European allies are eager to prevent Hamas taking charge of reconstruction because this might add to its political standing among Palestinians. They recall that after the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, many Lebanese at first blamed Hizbollah for provoking the assault.

But Hizbollah took charge of rebuilding and Iran reportedly gave US$14,000 to every family which had lost its home, money that was channelled to recipients through Hizbollah.

The major potential donors for Gaza will try to get aid distributed through the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas. But he is, if anything, more discredited in the eyes of Palestinians and the Arab world than he was before war in Gaza. Hamas, which won the heavily-monitored Palestinian election of 2006, will not want to dilute its power but there will be international pressure on Palestinians to form a government that is acceptable to donors.

If Gaza is to be restored even to the miserable condition it was in before December 27, then the economic siege has to be lifted. But Israeli leaders like the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, and the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, have claimed success in the war.

If the blockade is raised, then Hamas will say it won, and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as the next Prime Minister of Israel on February 10 will become more certain.


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