Israel Pulse

Donors consider new mechanism for assisting Gaza

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Article Summary
Donor countries to Gaza are looking for ways to transfer aid to Gaza Strip residents without the money falling into the pockets of Hamas.

Israeli headlines on internet news sites and broadcast networks on Oct. 4 loudly declared a state of tension in Gaza and argued that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is preparing for a large-scale operation. According to the headlines, the IDF was reported to be deploying its Iron Dome missile interception system; it was said that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had directed the IDF to remain in a state of maximum readiness and that even Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot had ordered the beefing up of forces in the south.

These public accounts were directed at Hamas leaders since the assessment was that Hamas is preparing for a military engagement with Israel. Last week, the IDF was informed of a Hamas maneuver in which it deployed its special forces along the length of the border, perhaps readying itself for incursions into Israel; this might have been the red light for Israel’s security system. It is also possible that the exercise was only to “show the Israelis” what will happen if there will be no change in Gaza’s situation.

This week, Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar gave an interview to Italian reporter Francesca Borri with the La Republica newspaper. In a very unusual move, the interview was also published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Oct. 5 in order to deliver the message to the Israeli leadership. “A new war is in no one's interest, certainly not our interest. … [But] in the current situation, an explosion is inevitable,” Sinwar was quoted as saying. He also presented his demands for the removal of the blockade. For example, he demands an alternative source of assistance now that aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has been cut back. 

Hamas — and Israel too — wants to avert the next war; each side urges the other party to be patient and willing to compromise. Hamas presses on Israel to open the blockade on Gaza very soon, and Israel signals Hamas that despite the fact that an arrangement between the sides does not seem feasible at this time, Israel is making efforts to offer other concessions. Al-Monitor found out that messages in this vein were delivered to Gaza via Palestinian merchants who work with Israel. These Palestinians were told that Israel is looking for a way to promote economic projects in the Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, and a joint press conference was held in Jerusalem. At the conference, Netanyahu argued that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to blame for the tension created with Gaza. Netanyahu said that Abbas was “choking off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority [PA] to Gaza. As a result of this chokehold, pressures have been created. … From time to time Hamas attacks Israel at a relatively low intensity, but the chokehold is tightening.” Netanyahu added that Abbas “has interfered in all UN attempts to ease the plight in Gaza, including now.”

Later on, in a get-together with Israeli college students, the chancellor was asked if Germany supports attempts to reach an arrangement with Hamas. Merkel answered, “When Gilad Shalit [IDF soldier held by Hamas] was held captive, we went to great efforts. Now we are also making efforts, but I am not interested in giving any details.”

Germany has an important role in the joint attempts of the European Union (EU) and Israel to find a financial solution to easing the blockade on Gaza. Nonetheless, no efficient, reliable mechanism has been found so far to ensure that the tens of millions of dollars designated for Gaza won’t fall into Hamas hands.

One possibility offered as a solution and currently on the agenda is the founding of an investment fund; as of now, it has been nicknamed a “Bank of Targets” in Israel, just like the term used by the IDF in military activities. The idea behind it is that European representatives would determine how the money will be dispensed and where it would be directed; this would be accomplished with the input of “uninvolved” Palestinians — in other words, not Hamas people. According to this plan, EU countries — as well as other contributing nations such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia — would transfer their contributions to the fund.

So far, the Norwegian government — the Oslo Accords matchmaker — has been the one coordinating the donations, managing the transfer of the funds to the Palestinians in Gaza via the PA. The suggestion is that Norway will continue to control the contributions from the donor countries, but then EU representatives and UN emissary Nickolay Mladenov should supervise the disbursement of funds.

According to the proposed outline, which has not yet been completed, Palestinians should also participate in handling the fund — but only those Palestinians who can definitely prove they have no connection to Hamas. They would be in charge of executing economic projects and will have to submit detailed reports to the fund regarding the designation of each and every dollar leaving the kitty.

This involves an entire apparatus of directors, officials and underlings doing the actual work. We can assume that the manning of the “Gaza people” functionaries slot will take a long time and that the Israeli Shin Bet would also want to make sure that only suitable people will be chosen to work with the fund.

The idea of the fund rose during a meeting of contributing nations held in New York Sept. 28 in which the sum of $50 million was mobilized “on paper,” as Al-Monitor learned. In actuality, only $15 million will be immediately sent to Gaza and used to purchase fuel with which to operate the local power station. The rest of the promised money is waiting until a way can be found to send it without any chance of it falling into Hamas' hands.

The goal is that the fund should operate using the same method: finding a direct target for the money. One example would be the establishment of a desalinization plant in the south of the Strip. In this way, the equipment and raw materials would be transported to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing after being paid for, and from there to Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip where the plant is supposed to be built. The laborers doing the construction work on the site will receive their wages under the full supervision of European teams.

Is this a real solution for Gaza? Will an investment fund really save Gaza? Very doubtful. Sinwar talks about a complete removal of the blockade while Israel is ready for minor concessions and economic projects. When the gap between the two sides is so large, the conclusion is that an explosion is probably inevitable.

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Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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