Friday, 19 September 2014

What's in the UN's Gaza reconstruction agreement?


GAZA CITY (IRIN) -- On Sept. 16, the United Nations announced a new deal that is supposed to ease restrictions on the Gaza Strip.

In his public statement on the day, Robert Serry, the UN envoy for the Middle East, gave few specific details about the deal but said it would "enable work at the scale required in the Strip, involving the private sector in Gaza and giving a lead role to the Palestinian Authority in the reconstruction effort."

Why is the agreement necessary?

Following the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, much of the enclave is in ruins. At least 18,000 homes were destroyed as Israel dropped thousands of bombs on the heavily populated area, while key infrastructure including power plants and water networks were also badly damaged.

Rebuilding efforts are made even more challenging by a pre-existing blockade. Since 2007 Israel and Egypt have limited or banned many basic goods from entering the Strip. Among those that Israel restricts are fertilizers, cement, steel cables and even some fabrics.

Tel Aviv defines such goods as "dual use" -- meaning that while they are needed for the civilian population, they could also potentially be used by militant groups in attacks.

With the catastrophic level of destruction and ongoing humanitarian crisis, rebuilding without easing the blockade is nearly impossible. A key housing group has estimated that without lifting the restrictions on cement and other dual-use goods, restoring Gaza just to the level it was before the war could take 20 years.

As such, the UN, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have reached a deal that seeks to increase access while aiming to assure Israel that none of the goods will fall into the hands of Hamas or other groups that it labels terrorists.

What are the terms?

Not all the terms have been ironed out yet and agreements on specifics -- such as cement -- have not been made public. Indeed both Israeli and Hamas officials IRIN spoke to were hesitant to talk about the exact terms of the deal.

What is known so far is that there are two main areas of works that this applies to -- UN projects and private Palestinian projects. The former have been subject to fewer restrictions in recent years, but a new deal has been agreed whereby the Israeli government will approve UN projects upon receipt of only basic information and their general locations. This, in theory, should speed up UN operations.

The second category -- Palestinian projects -- is the more contentious issue. Under the new rules, Palestinian businesses trying to bring in "dual-use" goods must first register with a database run by the Palestinian government in the West Bank, not Gaza. This online database will register the import and transfer of items.

There will be two different monitoring procedures -- one for small-scale works such as people rebuilding their homes and another for larger private construction projects. Both of these involve UN monitoring teams overseeing the projects. more

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