I wrote an article three days ago, "That Surreal Gaza Reconstruction Conference," in which I condemned the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting on March 2 that was attended by 71 states and 16 organizations and raised $4.5 billion for Gaza and the Palestinian Authority. I noted that attacks from Gaza continued unabated and asked "What the hell are the donor countries doing, getting in the middle of an on-going war with their high-profile supposed reconstruction effort?"
Well, good news: The whole exercise may have been a con job.
Adam Entous writes for Reuters in "Record donor pledges to Palestinians raise questions" that things are not what they seem. He steps back to note that the Palestinians have been pledged $14 billion at five Western-backed meetings donor and investor conferences since December 2007 ($12 billion from governments and $2 billion from investors). But look closer and you'll find that these monies "were counted more than once, have yet to materialise or were too vague to rely on."
In more detail:
Much of the money depends on Israel fully opening border crossings with Hamas-ruled Gaza, and lifting restrictions in the occupied West Bank where Abbas's Palestinian Authority holds sway, or has been linked to progress in stalled peace talks and Palestinian reconciliation, casting doubt on future payouts,
One senior Western diplomat criticised the pledging process as "smoke and mirrors" because of double-counting. Another said the big-figure headlines from donors eager to look forthcoming, combined with a lack of transparency, were "getting ridiculous", noting that despite the cascade of pledges, the Authority was still struggling to pay full wages to its workers on time.
Conference organisers have disclosed little about individual donor pledges or disbursement schedules, making it difficult to track how much money was really in the pipeline for Abbas.
Donors also differ over how to deliver their aid, underscoring divisions over isolating Hamas, which has decried the pledging process as financial "blackmail" to marginalise the group after its 2006 election victory. Israel and the United States say they want to prevent any money from going to the Islamists, who they consider "terrorists." …
Combined, the pledges would be the equivalent of $3,500 for every man, woman and child in the West Bank and Gaza, more than double per capita Palestinian GDP. Half of Gaza's 1.5 million population live on less than $3 a day, by Palestinian estimates.
Indeed, the whole thing may be a farce:
It is unclear how much of the $4.5 billion in "new commitments", announced at Monday's conference in Sharm to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after Israel's devastating offensive, were really new, said Western diplomats who took part. … Diplomats said some other donors in Sharm, including the European Commission, largely re-pledged commitments initially made at a donors' conference in Paris in December 2007. … "It is the same money," said a senior Western diplomat, whose government made a sizeable pledge at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. "It is getting ridiculous."
Comment: What a relief if it's true that Hamas is not getting paid to launch rockets at Israel nor the Palestinian Authority to engage in terrorism against Israelis. (March 6, 2009)
Mar. 12, 2009 update: Another, powerful indication that the pledged money was not what it seemed to be: Ha'aretz reports that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the US$900 million from the U.S. government is highly conditional and "will be withdrawn if the expected Palestinian Authority coalition government between Fatah and Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist."
Comment: That's a steep, if not impossible requirement to meet, as Hamas as shown no willingness to give up this core tenet of its ideological mission.