EU to promise $556 million for Palestinian aid. But who will oversee Gaza reconstruction?

The European Union announced Friday it will pledge $556 million for Palestinian aid and recovery in Gaza at an international donors’ conference to begin Monday. But without a Palestinian unity government to oversee the reconstruction, distributing that aid could be difficult.

The EU’s executive office said the aid would be dedicated to early recovery from the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza that ended Jan 18. But Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European commissioner for external relations and neighborhood policy, acknowledged the current difficulty of getting aid into Gaza.

“The crucial problem at the moment is not related to funding but to access,” she said in a statement. “In the aftermath of the crisis, a clear priority remains the immediate and unconditional reopening of all Gaza crossings on a regular and predictable basis, for the flow of humanitarian and commercial goods as well as people."

Israel has maintained a tight blockade of Gaza since the militant Islamic party Hamas seized control of the enclave in 2007, pushing rival Mahmoud Abbas’s party Fatah back to its power base in the West Bank. Since the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel ended, the two have failed to reach a cease-fire agreement that would open border crossings.

A Palestinian unity government could provide a channel for reconstruction aid and help end the embargo on Gaza. But while leaders of both Palestinian factions announced Thursday an agreement in principle to form a unity government, they left the gritty details of working out an accord to five committees, effectively delaying the difficult decisions. (Read the Monitor’s report on the Palestinian reconciliation talks Thursday here.)

The committees are tasked with coming up with the agreement before the end of March, when an Arab summit will be held in Qatar. Al Jazeera reported that they will work on forming a basis for a unity government, rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organization, holding parliamentary and presidential elections, and rebuilding the Palestinian security forces.

An agreement between the factions could put Palestinian Authority forces, which are controlled by Fatah, at Gaza’s border crossings, which could persuade Egypt to more fully open its crossings with Gaza. But Israel has said it will not open its crossings until Hamas releases Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was seized by in 2006, and has been a sticking point in cease-fire negotiations.

The US, Israel, and the EU regard Hamas as a terrorist organization and boycotted the government it formed after winning parliamentary elections in 2006.

The international donor conference for Palestinian aid will begin Monday in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, and more than 70 countries are expected to attend. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also attend. The Palestinian Authority has estimated that $2.8 billion is needed for reconstruction in Gaza.

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