During September, the UN brokered a temporary agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The new agreement, named the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), will allow for the entry into Gaza of large amounts of basic construction materials (mainly aggregate, cement and metal bars) and machinery (i.e. trucks, tractors, forklifts, buses, diggers, cement mixers and pumps). These items are defined by the Israel authorities as “dual use items” and their import has been severely restricted since the imposition of the blockade in 2007, with the exception of materials for approved international projects, although these were subject to a lengthy approval process by COGAT. The network of illegal tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt, partially met the demand for construction materials by the private sector in Gaza for many years. However, the operation launched in June 2013 by the Egyptian authorities, in the context of military operations in the Sinai, resulted in an almost total halt in smuggling, triggering a severe shortage of building materials on the Gaza market and massive layoffs in the construction sector, previously one of the few functioning outlets in the depressed Gazan economy.
The GRM enables the Government of Palestine (GoP) to lead reconstruction efforts by the Gazan private sector of housing and infrastructure damaged and destroyed during the latest round of hostilities, while addressing Israeli security concerns. Under the GRM, vendors approved by the GoP will be authorized to import construction materials for sale to individuals or to contractors for specific works which will be recorded in a central database managed by the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs. For individual home repairs or reconstruction to be included in the database, a basic assessment by the GoP or the UN is required. Infrastructure projects will be identified based on the GoP National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Gaza and included in the database after approval by the Israeli authorities.
The GRM will also ease the system that was in place since 2010 for the import of restricted materials by UN agencies, as the Israeli authorities will consider comprehensive programmes of work rather than individual projects. On 16 September, prior to the agreement on the GRM, the Israeli authorities announced the approval of US$ 105 million worth of UN reconstruction and rehabilitation projects in Gaza that have been pending for over a year, on average. Another US$ 46 million worth of UN projects remain pending. Implementation of the GRM started in October. A High Level Steering Team, consisting of representatives from the Government of Palestine, the Government of Israel and the UN has been established to coordinate the implementation process.
On 15 September, the Israeli authorities announced a number of measures aimed at easing exit permit criteria for Palestinians in Gaza to permit access to Israel and the West Bank. The daily quota of merchants who can exit Gaza was increased from 120 to 200 out of a total pool of 2,000 permits, up from 1,200 previously. The age requirement for merchant permits was also lowered from 35 to 30. The age of minors who can accompany adults granted permits was also increased from six to 15 years of age and Palestinians from Gaza may apply to visit second-degree relatives in the West Bank: previously, only first-degree relatives were considered. In addition, Israel permitted over 1,000 Gaza residents to travel to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, for the Eid al Adha holiday in early October. Prior to the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, an average of 26,000 Palestinians exited Gaza every day via the Erez Crossing.