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Home > Life & Culture > Literature
Aid, Diplomacy and Facts on the Ground: The Case of Palestine
Nadia Hijab, Middle East Policy, Aug 3, 2007

This article was originally published by Middle East Policy and is republished with the author's permission.

Aid, Diplomacy and Facts on the Ground: The Case of Palestine, by Michael Keating, Anne Le More and Robert Lowe. Chatham House Publishers, 2006.

A Palestinian boy stands next to sacks of flour as he waits to receive food aid in the Rafah refugee camp. (Hatem Omar, Maan Images)
In August 2005, I was in Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), to evaluate a democracy-building project. Donors had already made a considerable investment and were trying to decide how much more to allocate. It was a surreal exercise. While I was there, the Israeli occupation forces were preparing for their unilateral disengagement from Gaza even as they were cementing the Wall around Ramallah. Access to the city was sealed off except through Israeli-controlled checkpoints, one of which provided a fast track for the international community and the other a choke point for Palestinians.

Private questions to donors as to the sustainability of development under these conditions and whether they might do better to lobby their capitals to take political measures to end the occupation were met with a rueful shrug. Questions to Palestinian counterparts as to who was doing the strategic thinking about how to achieve national liberation were met with puzzled looks.

In the end, the international communityís response to the democratic election of Hamas a few months later made the whole exercise moot.

Against this background, I turned with great interest to Aid, Diplomacy and Facts on the Ground: The Case of Palestine. The book should be required reading for Western aid workers and foreign politicians in this and other conflicts. It should also be read by the taxpayers of those countries to better understand the purpose and impact of their governmentís foreign policies and the role of aid within those policies.

Why has $6 billion of taxpayersí money given in aid to Palestinians between 1993 and 2004 not staved off a collapse of the Palestinian economy, polity and society? Why do donors provide aid, given Israelís obligations as an occupying power, and fund major infrastructure projects that Israel then destroys? Citizens need to ask these questions because, in a globalized world where violence is on the move, they pay the price for their countriesí policies.

Michael Keating and his 18 co-authors take on these thorny issues and support their arguments with a wealth of data, charts and time lines. The issues troubled not just the authors but also the donors themselves, some of whose agencies funded the production of the book. Three conclusions are unanimous ó and damning:

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  • Without a political agreement, socioeconomic development cannot be achieved and sustained. Indeed, as several authors note, donor aid has shifted from 7:1 in favor of development assistance in 2000 to 5:1 in favor of emergency assistance by 2002.

  • Aid in the absence of a political agreement can do more harm than good, by funding the occupation, postponing the national agenda, creating unaccountable elites, co-opting the leadership needed to achieve freedom and justice, and making donors feel good and powerful, among other things. See, for example, the essays by Nigel Roberts and Rex Brynen on the PAís system of patronage, and Jeff Halperís honest and insightful essay into ways to provide solidarity without reinforcing the skewed power dynamic.

  • Aid has not prevented the de-development of Palestinian society.

Among the bookís greatest strengths is that the co-editors ó Keating, who initiated the project, Anne Le More and Robert Lowe ó are not taken in by the short-lived euphoria over Israelís unilateral disengagement from Gaza, which took place while the book was being finalized.

Their findings had identified the core problems that would not be addressed by Israelís actions, and many of the essays are amazingly prescient about the terrible situation in which the Palestinians now live, making the book especially relevant to policy makers today. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is determined to prioritize a solution to this conflict during Germanyís presidency of the European Union (January-June 2007), and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who in January 2007 undertook her eighth "listening" tour to the region, should send off for their copies.

The book brings together writers from a wide diversity of political viewpoints. In general, they are divided into two broad camps: those who discuss the needs, interests and responsibilities of "both sides" and those who recognize that, although there are two sides to the conflict, only one side is occupying the other. The latter group provides the more compelling analysis, and they get close to uncovering Israelís real strategy. They also eschew what Mary B. Anderson calls "words that sanitize actions" in her excellent essay on how to "do no harm." She notes that such language reinforces "the Ďbusiness as usualí feelings on which Israeli policy depends."

There are examples of such "sanitizing" in several essays. The most galling, for this reader, are those that contribute to the "two sides" fiction. "Both Hamas and the settler movement, however, were insensitive to any potential manipulation of aid levels to either the PA or Israel," wrote one author. "Yet the current Israeli and Palestinian leaderships have not displayed a realistic strategy for peace or even for ending the violence," wrote another. Donors were willing, said a third, to tolerate "the PAís cohabitation with violent rejectionists to the confiscation of land in the West Bank and alleged Israeli transgressions of international humanitarian law." (Alleged? Surely not.)

The problem with the "both sides" approach is that the Israeli settlement enterprise is a clear attempt by one side to settle the conflict in a way that destroys the other sideís national and human rights. As noted in the book, Israeli governments ó both Labor and Likud ó have more than doubled the settler population in the occupied Palestinian territories during the Oslo process and built Jewish-only roads to integrate their settlers, together with the stolen (to use a non-sanitized word) land and water, into the Israeli state. This is not just a detail that can be added to one side of a balance sheet of shared Israeli-Palestinian responsibilities. How could the PA "demonstrate much greater commitment to preventing attacks on Israeli citizens" as the land was pulled out from under the Palestiniansí feet and as they were penned into ever-smaller enclosures?

In terms of spelling out what is really going on, perhaps the most powerful papers in the collection are those by Anne Le More and by Mushtaq Khan, who pose some very uncomfortable questions to the donor community. Le More notes that "Oslo enabled Israel to begin separating both peoples without having to withdraw from the Occupied Territory." She points out that the system of closures "became institutionalized" after March 1993, Gaza was sealed off by an electronic wall in 1994 and the pass system was introduced in 1994, with passes given to less than 3 percent of the population in 1995. And these were in the heyday of the Oslo peace process.

Khan goes further. He dissects Israelís "security first" conditions throughout the peace process to reveal Israeli strategic concerns that are not compatible with an intended withdrawal "even to borders close to the pre-1967 borders." He argues that Israel does not believe its interests would be served by a Palestinian state because this would not address the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees and, even more significantly, would not address the growing demands of the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel for equality within the Jewish state. Thus, Israelís strategic concern to maintain a Jewish identity may actually be undermined by a Palestinian state, he says: "Both Ďsecurity firstí and the associated facts on the ground become explicable as part of an Israeli strategy of long-term management of its ĎPalestinian problemí through conditional, partial and reversible transfers of governance responsibilities in densely populated parts of the Occupied Territory."

Khan notes that this is not a risk-free strategy. Among other things, it could lead to the emergence of a Palestinian leadership that believes the conflict with Israel is a zero-sum game, as well as of Palestinian constituencies that organize nonviolently to claim full civil and political rights. Both of these scenarios have emerged today. Khanís analysis also gives readers an understanding that the participation in the present Israeli cabinet of far right nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, whose views on "transfer" of Israeli Arab citizens out of the state have been described as racist by many Israelis, does not emerge out of a vacuum but is well within the broad Israeli policy framework.

I would take the analysis a step further and argue that Israelís strategy has remained unchanged since the earliest days of Zionism: to give life to the myth of "a land without a people for a people without a land." Israelís settlement policy in the West Bank is a clear continuation of the Zionist movementís five-decades-long settler policy in pre-1948 Palestine. The unwillingness to give up the dream of a Greater Israel in a land as people-less of Palestinians as possible explains the determination to avoid the two-state solution.

As Le More noted in her paper, Palestinians in small enclaves and seams created by the Wall gradually move away in "localized transfers." David Shearer and Anuschka Meyer, in their insightful paper on Israelís obligations as an occupying power, also describe the way depopulation can occur inside "closed areas" created by the Wall. Today, the West Bank is no more than a collection of Bantustans where people migrate, if they can, to seek survival and development elsewhere.

Yet there are still over five million Palestinians in what is and was Palestine, almost equal to the number of Israeli Jews. How is the Zionist dream to be fulfilled? In 2003, there was a scare among advocates of Palestinian rights that Israel might use the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a cover for mass transfer of Palestinians, as happened in 1947-48 and 1967. That did not happen. But, as the authors compellingly show, the deliberate policy of closure of Gaza that Israel planned all along as part of its unilateral disengagement could provide an answer to Israelís "demographic dilemma": civil war among Palestinians. This would result in Palestinians engaging in "self-ethnic cleansing" rather than Israelís having to do it. This interpretation seems too much of a horror to be true, but it is borne out by the facts on the ground today and the history of the past century.

Where does the international community go from here in its political and economic approaches to this conflict? As several authors note, donors are even more worried that they may seem to be facilitating the occupation in the wake of the International Court of Justice ruling in July 2004 that affirmed the illegality of Israelís Wall ó as well as its associated regime ó and called on all states not to do anything that would support this regime.

What to do? No one is proposing a cut-off of humanitarian aid. Rather, the aim must be to end the situation that makes aid necessary. The best way forward for the Palestinians, Israelis and the world is to finally apply international law to the conflict, as is well articulated in Claude Bruderleinís very interesting paper on human security, and Karma Nabulsiís compelling analysis of the de-democratization of the Palestinian body politic as a result of Oslo, and other papers.

Donors have two options. The first is to use their considerable aid not just to Palestinians but also to Israel to push through the application of international law in an even-handed manner. There is a strong element of hypocrisy in the aid boycott of Hamas when "both sides" use measures that violate international law (attacks on civilians by Palestinians, as well as by Israelis, in addition to targeted assassinations, home demolitions, collective punishment, land confiscations and the occupation itself), when Israel blatantly does not recognize past agreements or Palestinian national rights, and when someone like Lieberman serves in the Israeli cabinet.

A few authors in Aid, Diplomacy and Facts on the Ground suggest using aid to make Israel comply with its obligations under international law. Scott Lansky, who provides a very useful analysis of the U.S. aid role in the Oslo peace process, recalls that former President Bill Clinton asked Congress to hold up Israelís supplemental aid package because former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to freeze Israelís implementation of the Wye agreement. Lansky suggests that aid could be used to get Israel to stop its settlement activity, but quickly adds, "The point here is not to sanction current aid to Israel, which is likely to be counterproductive." Well, why not?

Providing Israel with huge amounts of aid as well as preferential trade access and other benefits in both Europe and the United States has clearly convinced Israel there is no price to pay for its destruction of Palestinian national rights.

Another suggestion comes from David Shearer and Anuschka Meyer in discussing Israelís demolition of homes in Rafah in 2004: "If Israel were presented with the $15 million bill for Rafahís reconstruction, as international law stipulates, would it prompt a rethinking of military strategy and encourage other methods of surveillance that cause less harm to civilians and property? Should the legal obligations on Israel, and donors for that matter, be applied before donors reach for their chequebooks?" After all, these governments are signatories to the Geneva Conventions and must live up to their obligation to ensure Israelís respect for the Conventions.

The Europeans have much more of an interest than the United States in the stability of the region, given their proximity, and they also have considerable clout though they prefer not to admit it. Just a hint that the EU may be considering the application of Article 2 of its trade-association agreement with Israel, which provides for upholding human rights, would do a great deal to get the Israeli governmentís attention.

The other option is for donors to witness and collude in the physical, social and political destruction of a people, and, with it, the whole body of international law that the human race put in place during the twentieth century to avoid other global conflagrations that would end its time on earth.

Nadia Hijab is a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and former UN development officer.

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