The United Nations has brokered an agreement to enable the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, giving a lead role to the Palestinian Authority while involving the private sector, the U.N.’s top Middle East envoy said Tuesday.
The agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations includes U.N. monitoring to ensure that construction materials will not be diverted from civilian to military uses, Robert Serry told the U.N. Security Council.
Serry said he witnessed “truly shocking levels of destruction to infrastructure, hospitals and schools” during a visit to Gaza last week.
Large neighborhoods have been totally ruined, an estimated 18,000 houses were destroyed or severely damaged, he said. Some 100,000 people have lost their homes, “leaving families shattered and despairing.” He said 111 U.N. facilities were damaged and over 65,000 displaced Palestinians are still living in U.N. shelters.
“The Gaza conflict is an appalling human tragedy, and has also exacted a terrible cost in already strained trust,” Serry said. “While the cease-fire brokered by Egypt has largely held since Aug. 16, it remains worryingly fragile with the underlying dynamics still unaddressed.”
He said the United Nations considers the “temporary mechanism” to rebuild Gaza “a signal of hope to the people of Gaza” and an important step toward lifting all remaining closures of crossings into the Strip. He stressed that it “must get up and running without delay.”
Deputy Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa said last week that international donors are hesitant to fund Gaza’s reconstruction as long as Hamas remains in control there and the specter of future wars looms. Mustafa said international bodies are eager for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah forces to take on a leading role in Gaza.
Serry called on the Security Council to support the agreement, saying it will help give donors confidence that what they are investing in will be implemented “expeditiously, and solely for their intended civilian purpose.”
He said the monitoring agreement is timely ahead of a donors conference to fund Gaza’s reconstruction on Oct. 12 hosted by Egypt and cosponsored by Norway.
Serry said the U.N. does not want a repetition of a donors’ conference at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009 when a lot of pledges were made to rebuild Gaza after another Hamas-Israel conflict “but there was no possibility to implement these projects” because of issues over getting construction materials into the Strip.
Serry said he has been in close touch with Egyptian authorities who are “very supportive” of the new agreement, and are also hoping that stalled cease-fire talks will resume soon in Cairo between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Pressed for details of the agreement, Serry said that for the first time the private sector in Gaza is going to be fully involved in Gaza’s reconstruction, together with the Palestinian Authority.
He said the U.N. procedure for monitoring the import of construction materials for its own schools, clinics and other facilities, which has been going on for years, will be expanded to cover the wider reconstruction of Gaza. This will require more U.N. monitors though he gave no figures.
The PA said in a study recently that the reconstruction work would cost $7.8 billion, two and a half times Gaza’s gross domestic product, including $2.5 billion for the reconstruction of homes and $250 million for energy.
The World Bank said on Tuesday that the war would contribute to a reversal of seven years of growth in the Palestinian economy, now expected to shrink by nearly 4 percent this year.
Gaza will see a contraction of as much as 15 percent, while a slight recovery in the fourth quarter could push growth in the West Bank, where the PA holds sway, to about 0.5 percent, the World Bank said in a report.
It said the downturn was also a result of restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza by Israel and neighboring Egypt and a drop in foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Growth, spurred largely by international donor funds, has been decelerating since 2012 and slowed to less than 2 percent in 2013 but could rebound strongly in 2015 if Gaza reconstruction gets under way, the bank said.
A sustainable Palestinian economic future depended on international budget support for the PA and “sincere efforts” by Israel “to allow better and faster movement of people of goods,” while taking into account its “legitimate security concerns.”