Time for the EU to Rethink its Palestinian Aid Policy
by Arsen Ostrovsky
The European Union’s funding policy towards the Palestinians could best be described by Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Last week, the EU announced it will double its aid for Palestinian development and the Palestinian Authority to €200 million in 2012, with a further directive that €100 million aid credits unspent last year to be also spent in 2012.
Since 1994, the EU has poured at least €5 billion in aid to the Palestinians, making it the single-largest multilateral donor. But what has the EU got to show in return? The answer is very little – except more Palestinian terror, corruption and a stagnant “peace process”.
With Europe in the midst of a generational economic crisis, the time has long since come to ask whether the EU should even continue funding the PA at all.
Most of the latest batch of EU funding is intended for various “humanitarian” projects (like water, public services, infrastructure) in Hamas-controlled Gaza and for Palestinian refugees, including to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNWRA).
The EU though appears seemingly oblivious to the fact that Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s existence and is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, is classified as a terrorist organization under the EU’s own laws.
Even noble projects designed to help Gazans effectively fund the terror regime which controls the Gaza Strip; while the EU simply cannot guarantee that money for these projects will not end up in the hands of Hamas and used for terror.
In the meantime, UNRWA continues to be one of the major obstacles to peace in the Middle East, by continuing to perpetuate Palestinian economic dependency on foreign aid and artificially inflating the number of legitimate Palestinian refugees, making the issue all but an insurmountable barrier to peace.
And then of course there is PA President Mahmoud Abbas – a man hailed by many in the West as a “moderate” who yearns for peace, yet at the same time has invited Hamas into his government and repeatedly shunned Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offers to negotiate peace.
Moreover, under Abbas’s leadership, the PA has done very little to nothing to stop the virulent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in PA controlled media and schools; public squares and streets continue to be named after terrorists; while the PA is also cracking down on press freedoms in the West Bank by jailing and censoring journalists who dare criticize its leadership.
In the meantime, corruption still continues to rule the PA. Abbas’ term as President expired in January 2009 yet he has repeatedly postponed new elections. In this time, Abbas has managed to amass a vast personal fortune, while further consolidating his grip on power – most notably by sidestepping and usurping his own Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad on monetary oversight.
Except for the keffiyah, Abbas has become indistinguishable from Arafat, with corruption still rampant throughout the PA.
Those that oppose cutting aid to the Palestinians will argue that it will undo Fayyad’s impressive “institution building”. However, it is important to keep in mind that very little economic or institutional activity could have been achieved without Israel’s security presence there.
Were Israel to leave, the relative stability in West Bank would immediately give way to violence and another power struggle between Hamas and Fatah (as it did in 2006, after Hamas won the elections in Gaza) and the economy would suffer again as a result.
In 2011, already at the height of the European financial crisis, Fayyad said that Palestinians are “well on our way to reducing aid dependency,” promising that they will “gradually wean [them]selves from [foreign] aid by 2013.” Yet, the World Bank has warned in a new report released only this week, that the Palestinians are facing a “deepening fiscal crisis”, appealing to donors to act urgently in order to help the PA.
So the question must then be asked – where is all the money going, especially as the Palestinians are already among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid?
Perhaps the EU ought to be a little more concerned that despite the PA’s much talked about financial hardship, it has at least seemingly found millions of Euros (as much as 6 percent of its overall budget) to pay Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails and the families of suicide bombers.
Some may also contend that EU aid is necessary in order to leverage European power on the Palestinians vis-a-visnegotiations with Israel. However, the ongoing tap of European aid has clearly bought very little leverage, judging by the EU’s inability to get Abbas, and more recently Fayyad, to even sit in the same room as Netanyahu.
The Palestinians’ “Arab brothers” across the Middle East have also consistently failed to deliver in any meaningful way on their financial support to the PA. Notwithstanding some regular political posturing, the plight of the Palestinians barely registers on the radars of Arab donors, who are for the foreseeable future more preoccupied at avoiding the same downfall as Gaddafi and Mubarak.
And now comes news that Abbas is considering revoking the Oslo Accords, the same Accords which have formed the backbone to the entire peace process, and to which the EU was a primary witness and is legally obliged to uphold.
In announcing the decision to up the Palestinian aid, Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy said: “[t]he decision shows our commitment to help the people of Palestine in the areas which are vital to their everyday lives.”
If the EU was so concerned about helping the people of Palestine, it must first demand that their leaders root our internal corruption and immediately return to the negotiating table with Israel.
With Europe in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis and a Palestinian funding policy that has brought only more terror and corruption, it is time for the EU to consider a radical overhaul to its Palestinian aid policy. Demanding greater accountability for its money would be a good start.
Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist and previously a Research Fellow at the Hudson Institute and an Associate Editor at EYEontheUN.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ArsenOstrovsky