International AID and its failure to change the political scenario

Palestine Update 282

International AID and its failure to change the political scenario

Recently, the European Union made a contribution of €20 million to the Palestinian Authority payment of social allowances to about 105,000 vulnerable families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Acting EU Representative Tomas Niklasson described the assistance as follows: “A social protection system is much more than a shock absorber. Social protection is an investment that strengthens productivity, development and social cohesion. In this context, the EU is working closely with the Palestinian Ministry of Social Development to ensure that basic needs of the most vulnerable families are met”.

For many years, the European Union and its member states have been the biggest donors of financial assistance to the Palestinians. Through its aid efforts, the EU wanted to contribute to Palestinian state-building and to reaching agreement on the two-state solution. A political analyst, Brigitte Herremans, Policy Officer for the Middle East, Broederlijk Delen -Pax Christi Flanders observes: “Offering Israel carrots without brandishing any sticks, however, did not give the EU more leverage. Israel has largely ignored the EU’s appeals to respect its obligations as an occupying power. Furthermore it has not given up its ambition to extend its effective control over the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and it applied the agreements with the EU to its settlements, despite the fact that the EU has insisted that it cannot recognize Israel’s sovereignty beyond the pre-1967 borders and has taken steps accordingly. Yet, this has not dissuaded Israel from deepening its control over the oPt and continuing its settlement expansion”.

The current Israeli government, dominated by right-wing parties that question the two-state solution, is stubborn about its refusal to surrender its control over the West Bank. It opposes international assistance in Area C, representing 60% of the West Bank, and has signaled to the EU that it will demolish projects that benefit the Palestinian population. Recent demolitions of EU-funded projects by Israeli security forces show Israel’s defiance and arrogant disregard for international viewpoints and interventions. Israel knows it can get it own share of aid while destroying what Palestinian aid is meant to achieve. Israel is worsening things. It is reinforcing its separation policy between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and is hampering reconstruction efforts via ongoing restrictions on the import of construction goods in Gaza.

Even though EU policy-makers disapprove Israel’s actions undermining the EU’s aid efforts, Israeli government is indisposed to fulfill international obligations. This simply means that all that EU aid can do is to mitigate humanitarian crises. It can make no political intervention and, thus, defuse the political crises.

The problem has been with the EU. The EU never really adopted a rights-based approach. It chose what it called ‘pragmatism’, which, in plain terms is a balancing act that gets no one anywhere.  On the contrary, it allows Israel to retain the upper hand.

The EU does not even remotely recognize that the two-state solution has collapsed with the eclipse of Oslo. Hence, they do not pressure Israel to withdraw to the armistice line of 1949. With no reference in the Oslo agreements to the Fourth Geneva Convention and Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, Israel vetoes any mention of international humanitarian law (IHL). In the current political context, one sees the rise and rise of the Israeli right. Israeli officials openly state that Israel has sovereignty in what they now refer to “Judea and Samaria”. In other words, their colonialist intentions are not even subtle any longer. The EU’s reluctance to strongly challenge that position of Israel’s has contributed to Israel’s flagrant disregard of the rule of law.

Ever since Oslo, Israel has violated IHL, even if it is bound by the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Geneva Conventions. As long as it is an occupying power, Israel is responsible for the welfare of the Palestinian civilians and it has to ensure that their needs are met, including food, medical supplies and services. Israel will not surrender full sovereignty to the PA (Palestinian Authority), nor will it fulfill its obligation to cater to the needs of the occupied population.

To make things worse, Israel has actively opposed the development of a healthy Palestinian economy by introducing new measures of control, such as closure. It has also kept control over numerous functions of the government, such as land use, borders and the right to residency. Israel’s ongoing occupation has frustrated the EU’s hoped for a ‘transitional’ scenario, in which the newly established PA would successfully establish its authority and become an effective administrator and provider.

The donor community as a whole has failed to address the grave consequences of declining development and the failure of Palestinian state-building, arising from Israel’s continued abuse of its effective control. Nor have donors developed a consistent strategy to address Israel’s violations of IHL.  Donors chose to ignore the policy environment and seem afraid to challenge the occupation as the main obstacle to development in order to avoid a political dispute with Israel. The human rights situation in Palestine must be given a more prominent part in the EU-Israel dialogue. It is not merely about ending the occupation. It is about giving up the racist-colonialist intentions of Israel. In the current form that EU disburses its aid, it only serves to strengthen its grip over Palestinian territories.

The three articles below argue why patterns of aid must be transformed if they are to facilitate political transformation towards a just conclusion to Israel’s colonialist presence in Palestine.

Ranjan Solomon

The Reinvention of Aid 

Can Oslo’s Failed Aid Model Be Laid to Rest?
By Jeremy Wildeman and Alaa Tartir
Jeremy Wildeman and Alaa Tartir argue that donors are reinforcing failed past patterns associated with the so-called peace dividends model while making only cosmetic changes to their engagement. Read more…

Defeating Dependency, Creating a Resistance Economy
By Alaa Tartir, Sam Bahour, and Samer Abdelnour
Alaa Tartir, Sam Bahour, and Samer Abdelnour point to the need to consider how Palestinians can institutionalize and eventually create a bureaucracy around a democratic people-driven development agenda, and argue that any new Palestinian economic vision must embrace dignity in aid. Read more…

A New Model for Palestinian Development
By Samer Abdelnour
Samer Abdelnour analyzes Oslo-inspired pitfalls of Palestinian development and misguided donor attempts to promote private sector development, and argues that a Sustainable Local Enterprise Networks (SLENs) approach to development and reconstruction can work in the Palestinian context. Read more…