Palestinian PM: Rebuilding Gaza Top Priority

Rami Hamdallah arrives in Gaza for first unity government meeting since the 2007 Hamas coup in the Strip.

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Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, center, arrives at the Palestinian side of the Beit Hanoun border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, center, arrives at the Palestinian side of the Beit Hanoun border crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014.Credit: AP

The Palestinian unity government held its first meeting yesterday, convening in Gaza to focus on the plan to rebuild the Strip after the destruction caused by the 50-day war with Israel.

Earlier, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah met with Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Hamdallah and other Palestinian ministers from the West Bank entered Gaza through the Erez crossing after receiving permission from the Israeli government.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (5th from left in front) with ministers at the unity government's swearing-in ceremony, Ramallah, West Bank, June 2, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Before the meeting, Hamdallah told a press conference that reconstruction and a return to normal life were the top issues on the agenda.

“The years of conflict between us and the rift between the Palestinian factions are behind us,” Hamdallah said. “The government is immediately beginning working toward its objective of restoring normal life in Gaza.”

According to the prime minister, his team will present a comprehensive plan to donor states at a conference in Cairo on Sunday; this will launch the process of fund-raising and reconstruction.

Hamdallah and other ministers toured Gaza yesterday, visiting sites that were heavily damaged during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Later, the prime minister held meetings with Haniyeh at his home in the Al-Shati refugee camp.

“The challenges facing us are very large, mainly the destruction in Gaza and the difficult situation that Gaza residents have been put in,” Hamdallah said. “We sincerely want the government to succeed in its objective, and we are working to implement the reconciliation agreement, which includes the reconstruction of Gaza, a prisoner release and a lifting of the siege.”

According to Hamdallah, “we are telling the Israelis that the Palestinian people will not give up on its dream of founding a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, based on the 1967 borders, and decisions of the international community, as well as recognition of the Palestinian state.”

The Palestinian government, with representatives from all factions, began its meeting with a general discussion on Gaza. Later, meetings were held between government officials and Palestinian businessmen on long-term plans for reconstruction. Today, Hamdallah will tour sites in southern Gaza and then travel to Cairo through the Rafah crossing to meet with representatives from donor states.

When the unity government was announced, Israel declared that it would not let Palestinians travel through its territory from the West Bank into Gaza. But because the government is working toward rebuilding Gaza, and because the donor states – including European countries, the United Nations and the United States – have designated the Palestinian unity government as responsible for rebuilding Gaza, Israel has let officials pass through.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT, approved permits for Palestinian ministers. This provision reflected a pledge by Israel to the UN Middle East envoy, Robert Serry.

Palestinian officials in Gaza told Haaretz yesterday that not all government ministers will travel to Cairo, and that only the prime minister and a few others will travel through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. The others will remain in Gaza.

After the conference with donor states, the minsters will return to Gaza to begin implementing the reconstruction plans, focusing first on infrastructure and homes that were destroyed in the fighting. The Palestinian government estimates that between $7 billion and $8 billion will be necessary to rebuild Gaza, and the process should take between five and six years if border crossings remain open.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will lead the Palestinian delegation in Cairo. He is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who will also take part.

Kerry and Abbas will discuss a possible Palestinian proposal to the UN Security Council for a resolution ordering the end of the occupation of the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian state by November 2016. Washington is staunchly opposed to the plan and has threatened to veto such a resolution if the Palestinians achieve a majority at the Security Council.

It is still unclear if the United States will put pressure on the other donor states to refuse funding if the Palestinians continue advancing efforts at the Security Council. A senior official close to Abbas told Haaretz that Abbas did not plan to visit Gaza in the near future. Such a visit depended on further implementation of the unity agreement.

“The political atmosphere is not yet ready for such a move. A presidential visit to gaze should be the crowning achievement of the unity agreement,” the official said. “It won’t happen at this point, as the waters are still being tested.”

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