The politics of Gaza's reconstruction was the topic of discussion at the UK House of Lords, in a seminar jointly organised by Middle East Monitor and the EuroPal Forum Which took place on Wednesday 3rd March 2015.
A number of British parliamentarians, foreign representatives and activists participated in the seminar which was hosted by the British peer John Montagu.
Gaza, EU and Palestinian governance were the main themes of the seminar. Leading experts and participants drew attention to the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the politicisation of its reconstruction, which has failed miserably in keeping pace with the level of destruction caused by Israel.
The two hour seminar was chaired by Karl Sabbagh, a British Palestinian writer, and comprised a panel that included veteran British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn, Carl Buckley, solicitor and partner at TC Advisory Group; and Dr Azzam Tamimi, a British Palestinian academic and political activist.
The open letter below was an outcome of the discussions and contributions by guest speakers and participants. The letter will be sent to the presidents of the EU Parliament and the European Council as well as the High Representative of the Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy including the UK government and UK party leaders.
Mr. Martin Schulz, President EU Parliament
Mr. Donald Tusk,President of European Council
Ms. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Six months on from the summer 2014 Israeli offensive in Gaza, which resulted in 2,200 deaths, almost one quarter of whom were children, there is still no sign of justice or recompense. The devastating 50-day attack, which saw 18,000 housing units either totally destroyed or severely damaged, left around 108,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians homeless. This is in addition to the 12,000 Palestinians still displaced as a result of Israel’s previous 2008-09 and 2012 offensives.
Gaza’s only power plant was knocked out indefinitely in the recent attack, in an act condemned by Amnesty International as collective punishment, affecting the entire population. During its assaults in 2006, 2008-09 and 2012, Israel had already caused widespread damage to the plant and the electrical grid. Even following repairs to what remains of the dilapidated electrical grid, most areas of Gaza continue to endure up to 18 hours of electrical outages a day.
It has been estimated that the cost to repair the damage caused by Israel’s latest assault is around $7.8 billion (USD) including $2.5 billion for housing, $250 million for the energy sector, and approximately $143 million for education. Donors have pledged $5.4 billion to the Palestinians, half the amount being dedicated to the reconstruction of Gaza, at an international conference on 12 October 2014 held in Cairo. The EU pledged €450 million to the rebuilding of Gaza.
However, far too little of this support has reached the people who need it. The painfully slow pace of reconstruction is a direct result of political obstacles, with the irony being that the very force that is hampering the reconstruction process is the same force that is responsible for the initial and periodical destruction. Instability in the region, the lack of support from Egypt, and indeed the international community as a whole has left Gaza’s reconstruction low down on the list of political leaders throughout the world, including the Middle East Quartet.
An EU high court declared last month that the reasons given for listing Hamas as a terrorist organisation were based too much on media and internet reports, and not enough on an authoritative scrutiny of its policies and activities. In particular, as the recipient of the largest number of votes in the 2006 election, Hamas clearly has wide support among Palestinians and for that reason alone cannot be ignored.
Any change in the status quo needs Europe-wide agreement to talk to Hamas, and Hamas’s agreement to listen. Such a process also requires all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to end internal divisions and to commit to peaceful existence. Only in this way can we see the establishment of any meaningful EU-led peace negotiations.
That the overwhelming majority of MEPs voted for the adoption of the recent resolution supporting the recognition of Palestinian statehood in principle, shows the urgent need to address the issue. In the last few months, motions on the recognition of the State of Palestine have been approved in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the Irish Senate, the Spanish Parliament, the French National Assembly, the Portuguese Assembly, the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies, and the Belgian and Italian Parliaments to date. Moreover 135 UN member states have expressed the view that recognition of a Palestinian state is long overdue.
If the British and other governments who have held back from full recognition made this important step it would not just be an empty gesture. In fact, by placing Palestine on a more equal footing politically, it would pave the way for the resumption of direct peace talks between Israel and Palestine as a precondition to the recognition of the State of Palestine and would express support for the consolidation of the authority of a unified Palestinian government and of its administration in Gaza with the power and freedom to address the needs of its people.
With international law, human rights and the rule of law as paramount, and in consideration of all the above, we call upon EU institutions, member states and political leaders to:
1. Employ the European Union Guidelines on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law (2005/C 327/04) to ensure conformity by Israel with international humanitarian law under paragraph 16 (b), (c) and (d) of these guidelines, including the implementation of immediate restraining measures and sanctions, as well as public condemnation of its continuing 8-year illegal siege and blockade of Gaza.
2. Declare that the occupation of Palestinian land is illegal under international law.
3. Hasten towards absolute recognition of Palestinian as a state, as this will be an opportunity for peace and stability in the Middle East
4. Aid and facilitate the payment of promised donations to the Gaza reconstruction efforts, and ensure they assist every effort made on the ground to provide housing, medical assistance and infrastructure repair.
5. Consider the decision of the European Court as an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of its diplomacy which has been hugely handcuffed by excluding principal actors in Middle East politics such as Hamas.
6. Israel should be put on notice that if it continues its violations under international law sanctions will be imposed.