by Orouba Othman, Al-Akhbar English
The file of the reconstruction of Gaza has resulted in crude paradoxes, ones that will bring additional misery throughout the small enclave following the fragile ceasefire agreement. What most breaks the hearts of Gazans is that the same hands that dropped tons of explosives over their heads will shower them with their “charities,” and even benefit as a result. While they have paid the price with their blood, their slaughterers are rewarded by the reconstruction of the Strip, and by spying on them under the cover of the international community.
The Gaza Strip – Now that time has revealed what was hidden, it is clear that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip will be a lucrative deal for many parties, namely the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is supposed to be moved by the sight of displaced Gazans sleeping in the open. However, it has turned a blind eye to this “rewarding” deal through two investment arms: the Palestinian Investment Fund and the Palestinian Economic Council for Development & Reconstruction (PECDAR). Via these two arms, large amounts of money will be channeled into the pockets of the Israeli company Nesher, which is contracted by the PA for the import of construction materials, particularly cement, while the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) gets a slice of the cake.
This trio (Israel, UNRWA, and the PA) has had no consideration for the cold blood flowing in the veins of the displaced. All they care about is making profit at the expense of the blood that flowed abundantly during 51 days of war. This is especially true for the PA, which – in the “deal” – combined politics with capital through two companies, Emaar and SANAD, while UNRWA is overseeing the legitimization and regulation of the blockade under the pretext of “monitoring construction materials of dual use.”
After accepting the enemy’s terms down to the most minute details, especially with regards to the
surveillance systems, the tight security control [by Israel] has shown a dramatic decline in the role of the United Nations, compared to the reconstruction plan that followed the 2008 war, which did not stipulate conducting security checks.
According to this role, and under UN envoy Robert Serry’s plan, the homes of the families of resistance fighters will remain piles of rubble since they are considered to be “security files” by Israel, while UNRWA will receive about 20 percent of the reconstruction funds to distribute as rewards for around 250-500 international inspectors, whose mission is to monitor the implementation of the process.
UNRWA is also trying to take the lead with regards to spending the reconstruction funds. It recently released a comprehensive [proposal], which promotes its vision and ability to build 14,000 houses in two years, citing its “accumulated experience” in building residential complexes like the Saudi, Emirati, Indian, and Japanese neighborhoods in Gaza.
It has also been said that the [alleged] rejection of 30 international organizations to reconstruct the structures adjacent to the eastern border is only part of a plan to rebuild the sector in a way that would make infrastructure modification difficult for the resistance. This explains why these institutions have implemented their projects under the guise of relief and rehabilitation for a period of 18 months – starting last month – apart from the rehabilitation projects of destroyed houses.
A high-level UNRWA source has defended the organization’s position, saying that “the United Nations did not draft the plan alone, because it is the product of long negotiations between the Palestinian delegation led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the Israeli delegation led by Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of Israel’s military administration in the Palestinian territories, and the UN represented by a single representative from the Office of Robert Serry.”
The source told Al-Akhbar that “the plan was only approved after the consent of Fatah and Hamas, which is why Deputy Head of Hamas politburo Moussa Abu Marzouk expressed surprise at the objection to the plan.”
Israel gets the lion’s share
According to available figures, Israeli companies will receive about 70 percent of the reconstruction profits, which will mostly go to the company Nesher as well as a number of factories in settlements. The company, which was launched in Haifa in 1925 and is a leading producer of cement in Israel, will monopolize the supply of construction materials to the devastated sector after the marginalization of the role of Egyptian companies. The irony is that the occupied West Bank, which is suffocating from the apartheid wall and settlements, is built with cement produced by this company.
The authority’s commitment to dealing with this company is in accordance with the Oslo Agreement and Paris Protocol, which reinforce the dependency of the Palestinian economy on its Israeli counterpart. Several agreements obligate Ramallah to import cement exclusively from Nesher through the Palestinian Commercial Services Company (currently known as SANAD), and if there is a need to import from any other country, [the PA] would have to beg for Israeli approval.
The same figures show that the Israeli company meets 80 percent of the needs of the West Bank and Gaza for cement. Israel tested the waters by entering 600 tons of cement (18 percent of the daily requirement) only once last month – the day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Gaza – and these few tons remained in warehouses for 15 days before they were made available to the affected, who received less than the required quota.
Maher Tabba, an economic analyst, told Al-Akhbar that “only 20 percent of the total daily need for cement reached Gaza since the ceasefire until last week,” noting that soon after the receipt of the reconstruction funds, “the Israeli enemy will get the largest share, in addition to the deduction of a percentage for international projects.”
SANAD and thirst for money
As for the PA, it is important to know the history of SANAD, which is under the wing of the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), and is currently run by Louay Kawas. It seems that the company seized the opportunity at the right time to expand its business and monopolize the cement market at the expense of Gazan merchants. The company was founded in 1994 and is the exclusive agent for Nesher. It recently underwent restructuring and changed its name to “SANAD for Construction Industries,” to move from the services sector to production.
Companies in Gaza expressed strong objection when SANAD listed 12 companies as exclusive distributors of cement, citing Israeli restrictions, although most of the companies had complied with the list of conditions imposed by the “Serry” plan. SANAD’s “deceit of merchants” did not stop here. The company signed suspicious contracts with the selected companies, and required its owners to import all construction materials exclusively from it, although it is only eligible to put restrictions on the import of cement, not to mention that the profits of companies in Gaza in this process is less than $6 per ton of cement.
Kawas visited Gaza recently, apparently in an attempt to raised the value of his company’s profits at the expense of merchants. He visited concrete factories and held agreements with the owners to rehabilitate their factories in return for over 25 percent of their capital.
Conflict between the PIF and PECDAR
Before SANAD (which operates under the PIF) won “the reconstruction privilege,” the company was involved in a secret war with PECDAR, although both companies gained their influence from the Palestinian executive powers and are stark examples of conflict of interest, and the interrelation between politics, money, and business in Ramallah. Both companies prepared “incomplete” reconstruction plans just to acquire a larger share of the pie.
Only a few days after the end of the war, PECDAR presented its plan consisting of 200 pages to the media, which raises doubts about the preparation mechanism of the plan and the reason behind the urgency.” It is noteworthy that the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works announced a few days ago the end of the inspection period for damages caused by the Israeli war on Gaza.
PECDAR is currently managed by Mohammed Shtayyeh, member of the Fatah Central Committee. It was founded by the PLO in 1993 for the implementation of infrastructure projects and the preparation of studies on the needs of Palestinian cities. A report prepared by the civil society group Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) says that PECDAR is only a natural extension of the authority, which explains the weak financial and administrative control over it. Even its Board of Directors has not convened in about 15 years.
The investment fund run by Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa is also seeking to take the lead in the reconstruction arena. Mustafa has been named in connection with large-scale financial corruption cases, which reflects the conflict of interest in the reconstruction of Gaza, since Mustafa is seeking to have Emaar – the PIF’s investment arm – undertake the process of reconstruction, not to mention the profits to be reaped by SANAD, which operates under the same fund. All corruption allegations related to the fund reflect the volume of financial “proceeds” that will go to the fund if reconstruction took place under its management.
Commenting on the above, Palestinian businessman Osama Kahil says that “PIF will result in the exclusion of the private sector from the reconstruction process, as is the case in the West Bank, where heavy investment by the fund in upscale residential projects has forced private companies out.”
“The reconstruction plan can be interpreted in two ways: First, there is stupidity by all the parties who approved the plan. Second, it is a conspiracy against Gaza involving these same parties,” he told Al-Akhbar.
Kahil does not exclude any party from corruption in the issue of reconstruction. He said that “the [Palestinian] Authority, including all its ministries and arms, as well as Hamas, approved the plan in all its details, and then came the blessing of the factions, who did not make any objections until the issue of the surveillance cameras.” He wondered disapprovingly: “Is this not security coordination with the enemy? How do we accept to be agents of Israel, by proxy?”