A senior UN official has declined to respond to mounting warnings that the failure of his so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism could lead to a breakdown of the August ceasefire that ended Israel’s 51-day massacre in the territory.
Anger is growing over the fact that there has been virtually no rebuilding, a situation made worse by devastating floods that have prompted UN agencies to declare a “state of emergency.”
“We do not have any comments,” Nicole Ganz, spokesperson for Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), said in an email to The Electronic Intifada on Thursday.
The curt reply came in response to a statement from Gaza’s private sector bodies rejecting the UN-sponsored reconstruction plan.
In October, The Electronic Intifada revealed details of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, pushed by Serry and signed by Israel and the PA.
It calls for onerous restrictions on building supplies and monitoring for Palestinians trying to rebuild their homes. It also gives Israel intrusive access to private information about Palestinian families, collected by the UN, which Israel can then use to veto who gets aid.
UN “administering” siege
At a press conference in Gaza City on Wednesday, Dr. Faisal al-Shawwa, chair of the Private Sector Coordination Council, said that Gaza’s private sector rejected the UN-backed agreement from the start.
Al-Shawwa said that Gaza needs the complete opening of all the crossings in order to rebuild in three years, but that under Serry’s mechanism it would take far longer.
While calling for a full effort to lift the siege, Al-Shawwa urged the UN to take responsibility for rebuilding destroyed homes using a tendering mechanism that existed prior to the summer attack.
UNSCO spokesperson Ganz directed The Electronic Intifada to two statements made by Serry earlier this month, which express a vague hope that “good faith” from Israel and the so-called “international community” – which has nowhere been in evidence – will somehow stave off the mounting catastrophe for people in Gaza.
Time is running out
The intervention by the Gaza private sector body has followed dire warnings by international officials and Palestinian resistance organizations.
Time is running out to get post-war reconstruction going in Gaza, the EU representative John Gatt-Rutter told Reuters on Wednesday during a visit to Gaza, home to 1.8 million Palestinians.
The UN estimates that some 100,000 dwellings were damaged or destroyed during the summer attack, affecting one third of the population of the territory that has been under a tight Israeli siege since 2007.
“A long time has gone by without enough cement or enough materials coming in that will allow people to rebuild their houses,” Gatt-Rutter said.
Last week, Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said that the Gaza reconstruction mechanism was “proving far too slow and is largely ineffective.”
Twenty-eight trucks of cement arrived in Gaza on Tuesday, the first such delivery in more than a month, due to Israeli restrictions. Palestinian officials say Gaza would need at least one hundred trucks of supplies per day to rebuild within three years.
But the failure of which Gatt-Rutter is warning is at least as much the fault of the EU as it is of the UN. EU governments have done nothing to hold Israel accountable for its summer attack that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.
Resistance has “other options”
A senior Hamas official said that UNSCO had made unspecified changes to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism at the resistance group’s request.
Speaking on Al-Aqsa TV, Mousa Abu Marzouq did not specify what the changes were, but he emphasized that his movement had never agreed to the plan in the first place.
He also accused officials of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, which has a long history of supporting the siege, of treating Gaza “as a second class part of the Palestinian people.”
UNSCO’s Ganz did not immediately respond to a request to confirm or deny Abu Marzouq’s claims.
Abu Marzouq’s distancing of Hamas from the Gaza reconstruction deal – the movement had initially given it a muted and tacit nod – reflects pressure from a population that is tired and exasperated that little has changed since the ceasefire.
Gaza remains cut off from the outside world, as the Egyptian regime that came to power in a July 2013 military coup keeps the Rafah crossing virtually shut.
And all of Gaza remains without electricity, except for a few hours per day.
Abu Marzouq hinted that Hamas has “other options” if there is no reconstruction in Gaza, but did not elaborate.
Islamic Jihad, another resistance faction that fought Israeli forces which invaded Gaza last summer, was more explicit. The group’s deputy leader Ziyad al-Nakhala warned on Wednesday that “Israel’s failure to respect the Cairo ceasefire agreement would lead to new confrontations.”
“Submerged in despair”
As a result of the August ceasefire agreement, Palestinians expected an immediate opening of Gaza’s crossings and a significant lifting of the siege.
During the summer attack, there was a strong and broad consensus in Gaza that any ceasefire deal had to be conditioned on a lifting of the siege.
Gaza is “submerged in despair,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness tweeted.
There seems little hope of improvement, and much danger of deterioration, as long as timid international officials like Serry remain focused on appeasing the occupier, Israel.
Indeed, what Serry should be doing instead of ducking responsibility is rallying governments to force Israel to end a siege on an occupied population that even the International Committee of the Red Cross has deemed to be collective punishment – a war crime.