Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, who co-led Sunday’s top-level meeting to re-build Gaza after Israel’s bombing last summer, said that the “solid” amount of aid pledged shows “massive international support” for the Palestinian people. He and others meeting in Cairo repeated calls for Israel to end its blockade of the war-torn Palestinian region.
Børge represented Norway in arranging The Cairo Conference on Palestine for Reconstructing Gaza, along with Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Norway has been deeply involved in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East for decades, and calls for financial assistance to rebuild Gaza resulted in pledges of more than USD 5 billion (NOK 35 billion). That was more than the Palestinians had even sought.
Qatar pledged the most (USD 1 billion, or NOK 6.5 billion) with the US promising another NOK 1.4 billion and Norway itself boosting its aid by NOK 95 million, for a total of NOK 885 million this year alone.
“Around 80,000 homes lay in full or partial ruin after the bloody summer in Gaza that cost more than 2,200 human lives,” Brende said. “We expect that Israel will do its part to reverse its blockade, so that help can actually reach the civilian population and the society can be built up again.”
Israel did not attend the conference, nor did Hamas, the Palestinian political faction that Israel contends is a terrorist organization. The Palestinian government led by Abbas, however, will now assume at least partial control over Gaza through an agreement with Hamas. “The Palestinian Government must, for its part, start reform efforts to secure responsible authority in all of Palestine, and take responsibility for the rebuilding of Gaza,” Brende said. “It is critical that Israel and the Palestinians cooperate on the new UN mechanism to get in the necessary materials.”
After the third war in Gaza in six years, Børge was asked what assurances he had that after another rebuilding, yet another war wouldn’t ruin Gaza once again. There are none, he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), but added that Norway and other donors stressed that both Israel and the Palestinians must make new political efforts to avoid another war in Gaza.
“They must show a willingness for real negotiations, to find lasting solutions to the underlying conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Børge said. That includes a two-state solution.
Since donations to rebuild Gaza exceeded the USD 4 billion that the Palestinian government deemed necessary, the remaining funds will go towards supporting and developing other areas of Palestine.
Money not enough
Humanitarian organizations warned that money isn’t enough to rebuild Gaza. “We can’t just continue to rebuild again and again,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the refugee organization Flyktninghjelpen, who also called for an end to the blockade. Israel’s blockade of Gaza has been criticized as being a collective punishment on all citizens of Gaza, and has delayed or hindered rebuilding after earlier wars between Israel and Hamas, which has a habit of sending rockets into Israel. All goods bound for Gaza must go through the blockade, and Israeli authorities fear cement, for example, can be used by Hamas to build tunnels.
Brende responded that “what we have to do, in addition to securing the financial aid, is to secure that political processes get underway, first about the blockade and then about a two-state solution.”