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The Chairman's Blog

Rebuilding Gaza: Planning Must Start Now

March 4, 2024

This note argues that the US and its allies in the Global North must urgently overcome the practical, political and psychological barriers to initiate serious planning for the reconstruction of Gaza.

It would be unconscionable – and entirely predictable given the West’s own goals over the last 20 years – if a political solution to the Gaza crisis was suddenly sprung and there was no real plan for reconstruction.

Planning for the Rebuilding of Gaza should be seen as an essential track in any negotiations and subsequent political process and must be prioritised now.  Funds must be earmarked and a programme developed that is pragmatic rather than overly principled, and designed to deliver rapid progress.

Key elements of Rafik Hariri’s reconstruction programme, which restored hope to the citizens of Lebanon by rebuilding Beirut under the guns of the IDF and during the occupation of the South of his country by Israel, should be studied as a possible template.

Recent investments and advances in the use of digital technology to support reconstruction planning, civic responsiveness and to combat corruption in Ukraine must also be considered and adapted for use in Gaza.

Policy makers and aid agencies

But policy makers, commentators and aid agencies from the West seem to be shying away from this challenge.

There’s all sort of reasons advanced for delay in the West: some practical, some political and some psychological:

  • It’s too soon: With the benefit of hindsight much of the planning, anticipation and optimism that underpinned public discussion of Ukraine’s reconstruction was too soon – the high point being last Summer’s week-long London Reconstruction Summit in which the UK Government was very heavily invested. That recent optimism now feels faintly ludicrous and has been ground into the mud of attritional trench warfare and squabbling over the cost of military aid.
  • There’s no Money: the accelerating sense of power draining from the Chanceries of Europe and the West as their exchequers run dry. With the Gulf States moving to fill this vacuum it seems certain that much of the cash for rebuilding Gaza will be petrodollars from the Gulf: if it’s their cash it’s their problem and there’s little point in offering Western perspectives or views.
  • Burnt fingers: the West’s collective ‘burnt fingers’ engenders a lack of confidence in Western views on – or interventions in – the Middle East. Who’d listen to those involved in the failures of reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan anyway?
  • Why bother? And finally why bother? what’s the point of banging on about reconstruction in Gaza given the likelihood, certainty even, of the continuing and perhaps future deconstruction of Gaza by military force and the uncertainty as to where its citizens will actually be living in a year or two.

With the ‘it’s too soon, too difficult, and there’s no money’ brigade in the driving seat there’s little sign of the public debate, competing masterplans, conferences, or whizzy digital platforms for the reconstruction of Gaza that characterised the debate over Ukraine.   There’s not the buzz of private sector anticipation about the opportunities, the scrabbling for official funds and pledges.  And there’s even little sign of the usual Tech Bros running towards danger armed with kit and switching on systems.

Yet the prospects of a ceasefire and perhaps even of some sort of historic grand regional bargain involving Saudi Arabia/Gulf with Palestinian reconstruction at its centre seems more likely in the short to medium term that any lasting peace in Ukraine.

Perhaps this armchair analyst is unaware of planning that is being done away from the glare of the media.  Perhaps, with the politicians the world over focussing on elections, officials are quietly shuttling between capitals, and sherpas preparing for closed door summitry and beavering away on position papers and rapid damage assessments.   But I have my doubts that there’s momentum on this and it seems far down the list of priorities.

And look there’s plenty out in the public domain about mechanisms for the reconstruction of Gaza, its funding, plans and processes and principles on which it should be based.  But these initiatives, such as the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, were developed after the 2014 war and much of the limited progress that was made was swept away in the next round of serious violence in 2021.  This is not the time to dust down old maps, surveys and reports and to fall back on past failures but to inject urgency, new thinking and new technology.     Ukraine’s brand new digital reconstruction platform – DREAM – is an example of what can be developed while fighting continues.

Rebuilding Gaza is an essential part of any political process

Rebuilding Gaza is an essential part of any political process and must be prioritised and planned for now.  Funds must be earmarked, processes agreed and platforms established.

It would be awful – and entirely in keeping with the West’s own goals over the last 20 years – if a political solution was suddenly sprung and there was no real plan for reconstruction.

There’s a very narrow window – when the guns stop – to establish hope for the future in the minds of those that live in Gaza.  That requires that the sounds and sights of conflict are replaced with the sounds and sights of construction.   This requires hard planning yards now.  What is the 100 day plan?  Which hospitals, which roads, which schools are the priority: How to sequence the works.   What about roads the seaport, and airport: how to get those ports and access onto the negotiating table.

The best antidote to intergenerational and self-reinforcing conflict will be to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals for the citizens of Gaza and stake out hope for their future.   Those citizens will need to see serried rows of cranes and hear jack hammers night and day.

Will it be difficult? Very. Can it be done? Yes. It’s been done before, in the region, under the barrels of IDF guns.

Lessons from Hariri & Beirut

In the 1990s Rafik Hariri used money, connections, patriotism and patronage to drive forward the complete rebuilding of central Beirut – shattered after years of intractable civil war – while Israel continued to occupy a large part of southern Lebanon, which it considered a buffer zone. Hezbollah continued its armed resistance against the Israeli Armed Forces throughout.

Some donors will undoubtedly blanch at the idea of using Hariri’s programme as a template for Gaza.  Critics point to cronyism and elite capture, and it certainly wouldn’t meet all 21st century requirements for equity and inclusion. But, drawing extensively on funding from the Gulf, Hariri delivered and despite its current troubles Lebanon remains a more inclusive and equitable nation than most in the region.

Effective, pragmatic and rapid reconstruction, such as that achieved by Hariri, will be a key element of ending the cycle of violence in Gaza and must be a key track in negotiations. There are practical issues that could be addressed now:

  • the shape and structure of instrument/vehicle for financing reconstruction;
  • the governance of that vehicle, from its strategic direction through to the role of local communities in assessing their needs;
  • the means by which new Palestinian governance structures and donors will coordinate;
  • the design of operational and logistic platform that will underpin delivery.

Kicking these issues into the long grass or filing it in the ‘Too Difficult’ pile isn’t an option.