Donor Countries Share Blame if Humanitarian Crisis Befalls Palestine
By Margo Sabella
March 22, 2006

The days preceding the establishment of the Palestinian Authority back in 1994, were jubilant and hopeful. Finally, the economy of the Palestinians, while remaining co-dependent on Israel's to a degree, had a chance of extracting the Palestinian people from decades-long impoverishment. The flourishing of development projects was a case in point.

Money poured into the PA during the last 12 years, funding projects in infrastructure, capacity-building, democracy, conflict resolution, peace-building and others. While the Palestinian Authority received some direct support for administrative costs and running a "state", unbeknownst to most polemicists against aid to the Palestinians, a large percentage of donor monies that funded the aforementioned projects went to their own national NGOs based in Palestine; who hired the staff and administered the money to well-chosen local partner NGOs. The donor aid was also largely driven by their own agenda on how things should be shaped, rather than how things are and may have barely touched the surface of the actual needs that remains in Palestinian society.

As the PA changes hands with the newly-elected Hamas party now in power, talk of an impending humanitarian crisis are widespread. Normally, a mass exporter of fresh produce, Gaza's fruits and vegetables lie rotting away in the rising spring temperatures, because Israel continues to defy agreements that allows access to export points, claiming, as always, security concerns. This also coincided with reports of a shortage of wheat flour and bread rationing in bakeries across the Gaza Strip and a warning from James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's Special Envoy, that Palestinians are slowly slipping into more poverty, which will be detrimental to peace.

So, is there a looming humanitarian disaster in the horizon for Palestinians? Apparently, some of the International NGOs operating projects in the West Bank and Gaza were summoned by Israeli authorities a few weeks ago to ask them their preparedness for the eventuality. A humanitarian crisis is indeed in the making, especially if the current calls towards not only boycotting a Hamas government, but also cutting off aid to the Palestinian people altogether, continue. Most local and international NGOs are operating in the damage control mode at the moment, trying to avert a crisis before it actually happens, although they are not receiving much cooperation from Israel, whose promises to open crossings to allow basic goods through are not being honored most of the time.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that foreign policy in the home countries of international NGOs are by and large still unclear on how to handle the new Palestinian political reality, so much so that projects are going forward at a slower pace, with worries that they may be withdrawn altogether in the foreseeable future. Stopping aid for development projects and re-focusing energies on disaster relief will render all the investment that donor countries poured into Palestine during the past 13 years a complete waste of effort, time and resources.

Despite the many projects and the millions upon millions of donor money flowing into Palestine, the de-development of Palestinian society was so glaringly obvious in the past few years that it is surprising it had to take Hamas' overwhelming victory in the January 2006 PLC elections to unravel it to the West, despite the fact that many Palestinians have raised the issue on the international scene repeatedly. And while, not without blame, the Palestinian Authority was ailed by corruption, the international community also has to examine the functionality of their agendas in administering aid and implementing programs and projects in Palestine, and indeed elsewhere in the world.

At a time when aid and projects for the prosperity of the Palestinian society are most needed, turning off the faucet on financial support to the Palestinian people is a grave mistake. Unfortunately, barring the Presidential Office, there is no other obvious channel through which the international community can legitimately continue to carry out its task of developing Palestine without it going to the governing body, no matter how abhorrent their ideology. Monies should be contingent on how they purposefully meet the development index in Palestine, rather than on policy matters, i.e. recognizing the State of Israel, which is a fabricated excuse to further delegitimize Palestinians aspirations for nationhood.

The stance of the international community in recent days proved to the Palestinians that they have no allies in their quest for an independent state living peacefully side by side with an Israeli state with dignity. The Palestinians feel quite bitterly the hypocrisy of the West that preaches and promises one thing, but when push comes to shove, abandons and disappoints. In an ever globalized world channels of dialogue and communication must remain open between the Palestinians and those in the West, despite the many differences in opinions, but this should happen on the understanding that Palestinians first and foremost know what they want and know what they need in order to fulfill that.