Peace process, conflict, tensions, war, rebuilding, repeat. This is the sad cycle that Israel and Gaza are stuck in. The question on everyone’s lips in the corridors of the European Parliament and the Commission is a serious and valid one. How on earth do we end this cycle?
If I knew the answer to that I would no doubt be collecting a Nobel peace prize in Oslo.
But what I do know are the contributing factors to the cycle, including – in no small part – a failure of EU diplomacy manifested through its aid structures.
We all know that Gaza will need rebuilding, but the concern in Brussels is that millions if not billions will be spent only to be torn down in rounds of the same fight in the years, or worse, the months to come. Ask any parliamentarian on the Development Committee and they will tell you that this is a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money.
It is self-evident that the status quo is a sticking plaster that can peel off at any time. But if the international community, and the EU in particular, are perpetually wedded to the same process, then perhaps part of the elusive peace can be attributed to the ‘processing’ itself .
Let me explain. The European Union has made it very clear, through Council conclusions, public statements and committee meetings, that the Gaza strip will require the international community to fund its redevelopment. There will be a large donor conference in mid-October on this subject, and meetings have already taken place with the World Bank to fund a serious and comprehensive. package. The European Parliament will issue a resolution calling for funding. The European Commission will start payments.
Yet in spite of this search for a policy change or new realities, we are trawling out the same set of practices. The EU will fund Gaza and we will see Hamas benefit. The tunnels will be rebuilt sowing the seeds for another round of conflict between Israel and Hamas. It is a deeply depressing prospect, but inevitable unless the EU changes tack. Now.
No sane or rational voice is arguing for funding to be stopped. A prosperous Gaza is an absolute necessity in any peace process.
But equally, no same voice should ignore the pitfalls of the money ending up with Hamas. The European Court of Auditors report in December 2013 found that nearly 2 Billion euros in EU aid had become untraceable or unaccountable in the past six years. EU funds oversight and checks and balances, when compared to say the US Aid system where every dollar is accounted for, are light years behind. It is a sad reality that due to lax and currently inefficient controls, European taxpayers are indirectly helping Hamas. This is a massive problem.
The EU has a unique and privileged opportunity to provide genuine funding for the Palestinian people in Gaza, whilst starving out Hamas’s military activities. Imagine the reality in which all the money earmarked for schools, hospitals or community centers actually went to their intended targets, not partly to fund Hamas tunnels into Israel, homemade rockets and other tools of terror.
EU aid is a lifeline for many and its importance and value is immeasurable. But if we let Hamas, or others, take advantage of it, it is cheapened and weakened in value and worth. We cannot hope for a peace, whilst our funds are used for wars.
To borrow the strapline of the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament with regards to foreign policy, it is time to ‘wake up Europe’.