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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Rebuilding the Palestinian Authority
Street repairs in Ramallah, 9 May 2002
Rebuilding work begins in the West Bank

Twenty months of intifada and Israel's recent military campaign in the West Bank have left the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its institutions devastated.

One of the effects of Israel's month-long campaign in the West Bank was the widespread destruction of basic infrastructure, public institutions and private property by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

Operation Defensive Shield was launched on 29 March 2002 with the stated aim of destroying the "Palestinian infrastructure of terror".

Many observers say the destruction resulting from the operation was methodical and not an accidental result of war.

Israel has been accused by international organisations and Palestinians of deliberately going about the destruction of the symbols, institutions and infrastructure of a potential Palestinian state.

The UN has accused the IDF of "wanton destruction" in the West Bank.

The rebuilding process is going to be a massive effort and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Widespread damage

Israel has often equated the PA and its security services with terrorism, saying that the same men who are Palestinian police by day are armed fighters by night.

During operations the Israeli military gutted the headquarters of the Palestinian Preventative Security Forces just outside Ramallah. The complex was built with money from the CIA.

However, the destruction goes much wider than this - to property and institutions that are much harder to categorise as "the infrastructure of terror".

  • At the education ministry the IDF destroyed all the files on student's results for the last eight years
  • At the higher education ministry the Israeli army took computer hard drives and destroyed the rest of the computers
  • At the transportation ministry, records on all cars in the West Bank were destroyed
  • The land registry building was damaged and its computers taken
  • All Palestinian ministries in Ramallah were ransacked or damaged to some extent except for the ministry of sport and planning
  • Many schools, often used as staging posts by the IDF, were found trashed and vandalised
  • Non-governmental organisations, such as human rights groups, seem to have been specifically targeted
  • The broadcast machinery of radio stations was destroyed
  • There have been many reports of looting of private property, but this is relatively minor compared to overall level of destruction.
The official Israeli response when challenged over these types of destruction is that they are side-effects of a major military operation.

Israeli military spokesmen have said that human rights groups are linked to terrorist organisations - an assertion that is adamantly denied.

Computers were taken from the ministry of education, Israeli officials have said, because the ministry is responsible for glorifying suicide bombers and Israel wants to gather information on this practice.

Rebuilding

PECDAR, the Palestinian development agency, says that $450m is needed to repair the roads, homes, business, ministries and security services damaged in recent Israeli operations.


We are sending a clear message that they [the Israelis] must not destroy the investment that we are financing

Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen
The World Bank estimated the figure to be closer to $350m, but that did not include the rebuilding of the security forces and was calculated before the IDF went into Hebron and Jericho.

At an international donors' conference in the Norwegian capital Oslo at the end of April $1.2bn was pledged to Palestinian rebuilding and emergency humanitarian aide - including $300m from the United States.

None of the money is new money - most of it comes from reallocated funds already promised by the European Union and Arab states.

One of the main worries for donors - who have already seen buildings and institutions built with millions of their dollars turned to rubble - is that their investment might again be destroyed.

"We are sending a clear message that they [the Israelis] must not destroy the investment that we are financing," said Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen.

Israeli permission

If the PA is to make a serious rebuilding effort, the Israeli Government will have to approve the process on a political level - donors and Palestinian officials say there has to be some kind of understanding that Israel will not target the infrastructure again.


Israel's aim is simply to put us in absolute chaos and then to be able to argue that the Palestinians are in a mess and corrupt and don't deserve a state

Mohammed Shtayyeh, Palestinian development agency
More immediately, Israeli tanks are on the outskirts of all major Palestinian towns and nothing can move in or out of the towns without Israeli permission.

There is no sign yet that Israel is prepared to give permission for this process to begin.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, the director of PECDAR told BBC News Online: "I am one of those who believe that the Israeli Government intention, besides killing and arresting Palestinian fighters, has been the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the general Palestinian infrastructure and institutions and all the elements that may make up a future state.

"The aim is simply to put us in absolute chaos and then to be able to argue that the Palestinians are in a mess and corrupt and don't deserve a state. And this is what they are arguing today," Mr Shtayyeh said.

According to this argument, Ariel Sharon sees the PA and the emergence of a Palestinian state as a mortal threat to Israel's existence.

Some analysts have become convinced that under Mr Sharon, Israel will never allow a Palestinian state to grow up beside Israel. Therefore the whole question of rebuilding may be a moot point.

Alternative leadership?

Other observers are not so sure Israel has pursued a single consistent strategy over the last months - but has been reacting more to events as they come along.

IDF tank in Ramallah, 31 March 2002
An Israeli tank in central Ramallah
Neil Partrick, a Middle East analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit, told BBC News Online: "There have been those around Sharon who have argued that the expulsion of Arafat and the destruction of the PA would be useful."

Such people have wanted to replace Mr Arafat with a more compliant Palestinian leadership, though this leadership has not been identified and may be, Mr Partrick says, "more like wishful thinking".

"Sharon clearly wants to neuter Arafat, but I am not sure he wants to completely destroy him," Mr Partrick said.

"The absurdity of this is the US and the international community have made it clear that they view Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians, so any Israeli leader is going to have to deal with him."

A further irony of Mr Arafat's position is that Israel and the US are demanding that he do his utmost to prevent suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

If the Palestinian leader's recent statements are sincere, his security services are not in a position to act against Palestinian militants since they were dismantled by the Israeli army.


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