A forum of countries and agencies that provide aid to the Palestinians committed 456 million euro ($559 million) toward a project to improve the Gaza Strip’s drinking water at a pledging conference hosted by the European Union in Brussels on Tuesday.
Of the amount, 77.1 million euro came from EU countries and the rest from agencies and other countries, including Turkey. This represents about 80 percent of the cost of the project, whose total cost is estimated at 562.3 million euro.
The project will include the construction of a large desalinization facility and a refurbishment of the necessary pipelines and water storage as well as solar energy for the plant. The facility will ultimately supply 55 million cubic meters of desalinated water to Gaza residents.
Requests for bids will be issued in mid-April.
According to the Israeli defense establishment, some 95 percent of Gaza’s water is not potable and hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sewage are flowing into the Mediterranean Sea, with some of it reaching the Israeli coast.
Israel supported the forum’s decision. It sent a representative of the Regional Cooperation Ministry to the conference along with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. The two conveyed Israel’s commitment to not create any problems for the project and to allow the entrance of equipment and materials into the Strip.
The Palestinian Authority committed itself in writing to be part of the project even though the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas is faltering. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said, “This conference conveys a message of hope to our people in Gaza while stressing that the international community isn’t neglecting their suffering.”
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Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, told the conference, “Palestinian unity is not only an important element for reaching the two-state solution and a lasting peace but it is also a fundamental way that is needed to improve the situation of the people on the ground. We see it very clearly: The West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza belong together. There is no State of Palestine without Gaza, nor with Gaza alone. This is why we expect all Palestinian factions to defy the spoilers and continue on the path of reconciliation, with courage and determination. The situation is extremely fragile.”
This is the first time the talks have yielded concrete results.
Despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' attack on U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman during a speech in Ramallah on Monday, the atmosphere at the conference was positive.
In the discussions the Europeans also expressed a willingness to finance $15 million worth of renovations at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt if the Egyptians would commit to keeping it open.
During an emergency meeting of the forum in January, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Mordechai presented an Israeli plan to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip in the realms of desalinization, electricity and gas, and to upgrade the Erez industrial zone, located near the Erez border crossing from southern Israel into the enclave. Israel stressed that it would supply know-how and reduce the entry restrictions, but that the money for the work had to come from the international community.
The Brussels event took place a week after a White House meeting at the initiative of U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt that was attended by U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, along with representatives of 19 countries, including Israel and Arab states. The PA did not send a representative, continuing its boycott of the United States that began when Trump announced the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
On Tuesday Greenblatt tweeted that he hoped for results from the Brussels conference: “Awaiting results of the AHLC [Ad Hoc Liaison Committee] Plenary Session in Brussels. AHLC should advance vital initiatives begun recently in Cairo and DC to make material improvements to the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. Important work to be done!”