This week the US Congress blocked $200m of aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in response to their statehood bid at the United Nations. Both the Senate and Congress had warned that such a bid in the UN might affect support to the PA. Now the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee have suspended development, food aid and state-building funds until the issue of statehood has been resolved.
Despite the fact that the amount withheld pales into insignificance when compared with the reported $3 billion in international aid which the PA now requires to operate and the estimated $4.4 billion that the Israeli occupation costs the Palestinian economy every year, it reflects the negative way in which aid in general, and to the Palestinians in particular, is used by donors.
In November the fourth Higher Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness will take place in Busan, South Korea amid a growing realisation among donors that aid is not achieving all that it could. Naba’a, the organisation with which I am working, took part in the Lebanese NGO workshop to submit civil society recommendations to the summit and I presented the problems of providing aid in conflict situations; drawing on local NGO experience on the ground in the aftermath of the Nahr el Bared conflict. Where aid ignores the political causes of a peoples’ suffering and seeks only to address the symptoms it runs the real risk of perpetuating a conflict and doing harm as well as good.
De-politicised aid can feed into the process of oppression and segregation as was seen in Rwanda in the early 1990’s. In the Palestinian context, aid at the expense of political progress feeds into frustration, oppression and de-development. Peter Uvin, in Aiding Violence, describes this process as ‘Structural Violence’; “usually caused by great inequality, injustice, discrimination, and exclusion and needlessly limiting people’s physical, social and psychological well-being.” This can clearly be seen in the Middle East, where Israel is still engaged in a process of state expansion into the West Bank and East Jerusalem and continually displays its control over Gaza with its blockade, border closures and military attacks. At the same time, international aid absolves Israel of its legal and ethical duties to Palestinians living under their occupation, allowing it to continue without financial consequences.
Now, Congress wants to use aid as a stick to force the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table with Israel while settlement expansion continues and with the condition of accepting Israel as a “Jewish State” (House Resolution 268 July 2011). Such preconditions would be disastrous for millions of Palestinians within Israel, the Occupied Territories and refugees in the Diaspora as well as for the state of Israel.
This position is in sharp contrast to America’s attitudes towards Israel’s many violations of UN Resolutions, International Law, human rights and even the foreign policy goals of the current administration. At no point has US military aid to Israel, set to reach $3 billion by next April, been questioned or even remotely threatened in the name of encouraging compromises to achieve peace. This is further reinforced by the fact that the PA will still receive US funds for security purposes, meaning that it can have money to imprison its own people but not to invest in their collective futures.
By using aid as a weapon in a political struggle the United States is making a peaceful resolution less likely. Peter Uvin argues that the existence of structural violence in Rwandan society made the populace more susceptible to hate propaganda and made acute violence more likely as a way of resolving problems. Conditions of physical control, economic suppression and violent occupation have been imposed by Israel in the Occupied Territories; more forcefully, in a planned and state oriented way and over a longer period of time.
This imposition of structural violence can cause increased acceptance and resort to acute violence within the oppressed sections of society. The aid effort to Palestinians has repeatedly fed into a loop of disempowerment, violence and retaliation. With each round of violence a negotiated settlement appears less feasible and trying to force one side to accept preconditions through aid only damages this process.
As efforts are encouraged to support the Palestinian Authority through this period it must also be remembered that Palestinian refugees across the region face an uncertain future and are in dire need of assistance, both political and financial. Following the last Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights situation in Lebanon the government accepted only six recommendations related to improving the situation for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon whilst rejecting twelve. At the same time, UNRWA, which bears sole responsibility for health, education and social protection for Palestinians in Lebanon, faces a budget deficit of $63 million for this year alone.
Without political progress the whole aid effort to the Palestinian Authority feeds in to systemic violence which ultimately can contribute to outbreaks of acute violence as the pressure builds within the Palestinian community. Should this happen again, Congress, Israel and the International Community must look to their own behaviour before blaming ‘terrorist’ Palestinians.
Jonathan Broadbery is working as a researcher and campaigner for Naba’a, an apolitical Lebanese NGO which works with Palestinian and Lebanese communities in and around the 12 refugee camps in Lebanon.
Naba’a’s vision is a society built on the respect of human rights and one in which individuals are able to take control of the decisions affecting their lives and to address their collective needs. More information about the projects and programmes undertaken by Naba’a can be found on their website by clicking here.