May 26, 2021 - World

Biden's Gaza reconstruction plan faces major roadblocks

Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty

The Biden administration wants to push ahead with humanitarian aid and rebuilding in Gaza. That's easier said than done.

Why it matters: President Biden says he wants to coordinate those efforts with the Palestinian Authority, which has no influence in Gaza, and exclude Hamas, which controls the territory.

  • Israel's strict controls on the entry of goods and building materials into Gaza are a major barrier, as is the reluctance of the international community to invest in the reconstruction of an area that has been repeatedly bombed.

What they're saying: In his meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah this week, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the relief and reconstruction process would be led by the UN with the participation of the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel.

  • The U.S. wants the Palestinian Authority to have a role in the channeling of aid into Gaza so that it gains influence and goodwill in Gaza, U.S. officials say.
  • The U.S. also wants to establish a strong international monitoring mechanism, led by the UN, to ensure that the aid benefits the people of Gaza and not Hamas.

Yes, but: Israeli officials told Blinken that while they are ready to help in getting immediate humanitarian assistance into Gaza — water, food, medical supplies — several conditions will have to be met before they'll allow the reconstruction effort to begin.

  • One is a monitoring system that's much stronger than previous ones that allowed Hamas to repurpose building materials for its own purposes, Israeli officials tell me.
  • They also want the Biden administration to press Egypt to monitor its border crossing with Gaza and prevent the entry of dual-use items that could bolster Hamas' military industry.
  • Lastly, Israeli officials told Blinken that any meaningful reconstruction of Gaza is conditioned on progress toward the recovery of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and the release of Israeli citizens held by Hamas in Gaza.

The other side: Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, claimed in a statement today that Hamas would not interfere with international reconstruction efforts.

  • "We will make the task easier for everyone, and we will make sure that the process is transparent and fair, and let everyone be sure that no penny [of the money for reconstruction] will go to Hamas."

The state of play: 86 education or health facilities were damaged during the fighting in Gaza, urgent repairs are required to restore water and sanitation infrastructure, and food and fuel are also needed, per the UN.

What’s next: During his visit, Blinken announced more than $100 million in additional U.S. aid to the Palestinians.

  • It won't go directly to the Palestinian Authority but through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and various humanitarian and development projects in Gaza.
  • Sources familiar with the issue said this was done to deal with “donor fatigue” and set an example to other donor countries that raised reservations about giving more money to Gaza.
  • Blinken also announced the U.S. would reopen its consulate in Jerusalem as soon as possible to engage with Palestinian officials and civil society and support the humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Gaza.
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