What Gaza needs
I first visited Gaza in 2003, which was only 10 years after the Oslo Accord. The late Ariel Sharon was either about to, or had newly announced his plans for Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. It took him a while to convince everybody to take Israeli settlements out of Gaza. Disengagement started in 2005.
In 2003, the Oslo Accord was still alive and kicking. Mahmoud Abbas was only 68 years old. There was still hope in the air. Those days are long gone, and hope has given way to despair and vexation. I found myself thinking about those good old days when reading the new World Bank report on Gaza’s reconstruction.
The report notes that only 40 percent of the amount pledged for Gaza in 2014 has been spent so far. Keep in mind that there are still 14,800 families who have been displaced. It has been 2 years since the Israeli military operation devastated Gaza, and the Cairo Conference pledged $5 billion to repair the strip. The reconstruction process has yet to be completed.
I was again in Gaza a month ago this year. Let me tell you what I saw. Around $1.5 billion spent so far, yet no visible change. Why not? Is the Israeli blockade the only stumbling block? Yes and no.
Let me first note the meaning of the World Bank report. The Economic Monitoring Report was prepared to the Ad Hoc Liason Committee (AHLC), a 15-member body that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people. The AHLC is leading the Gaza reconstruction efforts. On behalf of the Committee, the World Bank is leading a stock-taking exercise to overview the disbursement and implementation progress of support to Gaza pledged at the Cairo Conference in 2014.
Gaza has three border crossing points: Rafah, Karam Shalom and Erez. Only the latter two are operational, and they are both on the Israeli side. Yet the flow of construction materials to Gaza has always been under strict control, due to the danger that they be used to build tunnels. This slows things down considerably. The report notes that “at the current import rate of construction materials, it will take additional two years to import materials needed to reconstruct and repair all housing units impacted by the war.” What does that mean? It means that Israel’s security concerns slow down Gaza’s reconstruction.
Why is the current disbursement level only at 40 percent of pledges for this cause? For any donor, there are three issues to disburse a pledged amount. First, you need to find a project to fund. Hence, there is the issue of project development. Secondly, after finding a project, you need to create a supply chain of materials to implement it. This requires a mechanism for the donor to follow closely the project development process.
Thirdly, you need to make a difference. Every donor would like to make a difference and would like that difference to be seen by others. That’s what makes politicians tick.
If you ask me, what Gaza now needs is an interface to do three things. First, rather than a reconstruction plan for Israeli demolition, Gaza needs a new vision. With such a vision in place, a strategic spatial plan could be prepared. Second, Gaza needs an inclusive project development mechanism. It is defining a mechanism for project flow around the concept of a Mediterranean Gaza as the gateway of the new Palestinian state to the outside world. Project flow and a strategic plan would give donors the ability to cherry pick projects and define their contribution towards a new Gaza. Third, Gaza needs to design a supply chain for construction projects. This way, donors do not need to bear the cost of designing their individual project management units as Qataris and Kuwaitis have been trying to do.
Despite the occupation, it is still possible to make life easier for Gazians. That’s what is most important, if you ask me. Gaza needs new ideas. Is the one above doable? Yes. In fact, it is what a group of Turkish construction companies and the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), of which I am the managing director, are working on.