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This Sunday in Cairo, Palestinian officials will ask international donors for $4 billion to help rebuild Gaza. Again, tens of thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged this past summer, along with schools and hospitals, in what was the third deadly conflict in six years between Israel and the militant group Hamas. NPR's Emily Harris reports that donor countries are worried this request to rebuild will not be the last.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The $4 billion would cover both immediate relief and long-term reconstruction through 2017. Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa says Gazans need real changes.
MOHAMMED MUSTAFA: They've been subject to all kinds of restrictions, very difficult economic conditions, very high poverty rates. So these people want an assurance from the international community to ask Israel to make sure that this will be the last war against Gaza.
HARRIS: Western donors say they aren't exactly asking Israel for any promises. But they say they don't want to foot the bill in Gaza unless rebuilding brings real hope, the kind that might break the cycle of war.
KAREN KAUFMAN: The situation in Gaza was untenable even before the conflict started.
HARRIS: Karen Kaufman is spokesperson for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, representative of the so-called Quartet, a collection of countries co-hosting Sunday's Cairo conference on rebuilding Gaza.
KAUFMAN: The key is that Israel understands too that we can't have a return to this situation. You know, you can't keep doing this every 18 months. Also, you know, millions of Israeli citizens had to spend their entire summer, basically, within minutes of - seconds, even, in some cases - of a bomb shelter. You know, this isn't a situation that's sustainable for Israel either.
HARRIS: The war may have presented a chance to push for changes long-sought by donors, like letting people and goods move freely between the West Bank and Gaza. This week, Israel eased some restrictions, allowing hundreds of Gazans to travel to Jerusalem during a Muslim holiday and agreeing to a U.N.-brokered deal to eventually permit unlimited construction materials into Gaza, even supplies the military has tightly controlled to keep away from militant groups such as Hamas. Anat Kurtz, director of research at Israel's Institute of National Security Studies, warns that it is Hamas that holds the keys to change in Gaza.
ANAT KURTZ: This is the only power in the Gaza Strip that can actually disrupt rehabilitation efforts or contribute to their success.
HARRIS: She says the real future of Gaza will be determined not at Sunday's donors conference, but when Israelis and Palestinians sit down later this month to negotiate each side's long-term demands, which for Israel means disarming Hamas.
KURTZ: We do know that something should be done and quickly - OK? - because of humanitarian needs. But everything will be delayed until Israel is reassured that there will be no dramatic, significant reconstruction of Hamas military infrastructure.
HARRIS: In one new Gaza neighborhood, people joke rebuilding what they need will probably take 100 years.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)
HARRIS: Fifty-year-old Hisham Siyam moved into a new house, paid for by Japan, about a year and a half ago. That's nine years after Israeli troops bulldozed his old house during the Second Intifada conflict.
HISHAM SIYAM: (Through translator) Dozens of houses were destroyed at the same time. It was the Intifada, when the Israelis felt threatened. They destroyed everything.
HARRIS: Paul Butler, country director for the aid organization ANERA, which gets some U.S. government support, says the recent wars in Gaza have made it difficult to rebuild.
PAUL BUTLER: Almost every two to three years this has flared up, with this being the most destructive and violent. You know, the international donor community, the United States included, are right to say, this should be the last time that we ever have to do this.
HARRIS: Israel has contributed in the past to help repair U.N. schools. But the big share of the $4 billion Palestinians seek now is likely to come from other places, including Arab countries. The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday there are no plans to announce new money for Gaza beyond the $118 million already given for immediate humanitarian needs. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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