CAIRO — As nations and organizations pledged more than $5 billion to rebuild the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, several major donors said Sunday that this is the last time they will pay and urged Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a final peace settlement leading to two separate states.
Appearing in Cairo at a conference of more than 50 donor nations, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced that the United States would contribute an additional $212 million to Palestinians, including Gazans. “The people of Gaza do need our help, desperately — not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now,” he said.
The U.S. has committed more than $400 million to aid Palestinians, Kerry said. A State Department breakdown suggests, however, that only part of the new money will go directly to Gaza. According to the department, $100 million would go toward bolstering the Palestinian Authority budget and $37 million would go toward Palestinian Authority “institutions,” including water infrastructure in the West Bank. Just $75 million would be set aside for urgent relief in Gaza.
The United States had committed $118 million for the Gaza effort and $84 million to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian Authority says $4 billion will be needed over the next three years to rebuild Gaza, which was devastated by Israeli artillery and missiles during the recent 50-day conflict. Some of that weaponry was provided by the United States, which gives Israel $3 billion a year in aid, most of it in the form of military assistance.
On Sunday, Qatar committed $1 billion toward the reconstruction of Gaza. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey pledged $200 million each. Greece has offered the equivalent of about $1.35 million. All told, the donors pledged $5.4 billion, Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende announced Sunday night. The figure surpassed gloomy forecasts that some fatigued donors would keep their coffers closed to yet another appeal for Gaza.
Brende said $400,000 would be used for immediate, humanitarian aid and the rest set aside for reconstruction.
He made it clear, however, that Europe’s patience is wearing thin with the seemingly endless violence between the two sides.
“It’s understandable for donors and taxpayers alike to ask why taxpayers should pick up the bill for what warring parties have torn down,” he said.
But doing nothing now, he added, “is the surest way of setting us up for another war a year or two down the road.”
Israel pounded Gaza by land, sea and air over the summer as it targeted Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the enclave. It was the third war in less than six years between the two sides.
According to the Palestinians, 2,145 people were killed in Gaza during the hostilities, including more than 500 children. The United Nations estimates that almost 70 percent of the dead were civilians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that 1,000 of those killed were “terrorists.”
The Palestinians say that 18,000 houses were destroyed in the bombing, rendering 100,000 people homeless. Gaza’s population is 1.7 million.
The United Nations reports that 40,000 people without homes are still be being sheltered in 19 U.N. schools in Gaza.
The damage to Gaza includes telecommunications grids, schools, sanitation lines, mosques, hospitals and major factories. The Palestinians say that 20 percent of Gaza’s industrial enterprises were damaged or destroyed. Before the war broke out, more than 40 percent of the Gaza workforce was unemployed.
The Israelis say their military was forced to strike at or near schools and hospitals because Hamas was using the buildings to hide rocket launchers — and using the civilians in and around them as human shields. Israel says its offensive was a response to rocket attacks by Hamas and other militants against Israeli civilians.
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, called the $1.6 billion it is requesting “unprecedented, reflecting the massive scale of destruction and the profound level of need the beleaguered people of Gaza are experiencing today.”
Kerry repeatedly said Sunday that Israelis and Palestinians must chart a different course for the future or there will be another war, and another such conference, in a year or two.
“Now is the time to break this cycle once and for all,” he said.
“Israel is right to be deeply concerned about rockets, tunnels and security,” he added, referring to a network of tunnels used by Palestinian militants to enter Israeli territory. “And the Palestinians have the right to be concerned about their day-to-day life, and their future aspirations to have a state.”
This is not the first time that Kerry has thrown his passion behind one of the world’s most intractable problems.
Israel drew pointed criticism from several speakers at the conference, who denounced its partial blockade of Gaza and its military occupation of the West Bank.
Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, called Gaza “a tinderbox.”
“We must not lose sight of the root causes of the recent hostilities: a restrictive occupation that has lasted almost half a century, the continued denial of Palestinian rights and the lack of tangible progress in peace negotiations,” he said.
Ban made only fleeting reference to what Israel considers the fundamental cause of the recent war — rocket fire from Gaza.
Despite the calls for peace, Israeli politicians have argued that the status quo with the Palestinians is not only sustainable, but also preferable. They say they cannot negotiate a risky peace deal at a time of turmoil, war and the rise of militant Islam in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, in an address before the U.N. General Assembly last month, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he would seek a resolution from the world body calling for the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital.
The United States has threatened to veto such a resolution in the U.N. Security Council, insisting that the Palestinians will get their state only by direct negotiations with Israel and not through U.N. declarations.
Booth reported from Jerusalem.