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PA faces future with fewer donations

The Palestinian Authority has long been a political football in the Arab world, and that has never been more apparent than during the Arab Spring. Mahmoud Abbas’ request that wealthier Palestinians donate food from expensive iftar dinners — the meal following the daily Ramadan fast — to the poor exemplifies the drop in funding the PA has received from its Arab friends.

The last paragraph from this short Al Bawaba story is the most telling:

For months, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has warned of financial woes due to a chronic shortfall in financial support pledged by donors, especially Arab countries.

Arab leaders have long used Palestinians as a symbol of Western oppression. However, most of those autocratic Arab leaders held discriminatory views of Palestinians, relegating them to second-class citizens. Only Jordan accepts Palestinians into its borders, where they are treated more as a nuisance than an accepted portion of the population.

But the Arab Spring has made it clear that while the leaders viewed the Palestinian symbol as important, the Arab street has not. The Arab Spring was never about and never will be about Palestinians. Arab oppression occurred at home at the hands of their own government, not the West. That means when and if democratically-elected governments come into power, the Arab street will hold those politicians accountable for domestic problems. Those leaders will not be able to deflect problems on the West if they want to win re-election — the Arab street is no longer uninformed or naive. Communication technology has opened them up to how the Western world lives, and those societies are not built on oppression like the Arab world’s autocrats claim.

All this could reduce financial support for the PA. Arab politicians will realize their citizens care more about the domestic situation than some existential Western campaign of oppression in the Middle East. The fact few Arab protests have invoked the Palestinian cause in this Arab Spring shows how little that issue matters. Arab citizens will likely frown upon sizable donations to the PA if such donations lead to sacrificing domestic issues.

That means the onus is on the PA to develop its own economies. The West Bank has done an admirable job. Gaza, on the other hand, has not been as fortunate. It will be interesting to see what happens if the Rafah crossing at Egypt has any effect — and if the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports the PA, ramps up Egypt’s influence in the PA.

The West Bank has experienced significant economic growth during the past several years. Ramallah’s population doubled between 2000 and 2010, with Israel saying much of that growth came from removing various checkpoints. At the same time, checkpoints and security measures in the Gaza Strip have prevented the free flow of goods and capital needed for economic development. The West Bank, therefore, has grown at a much faster pace while Gaza has stagnated.

Arab countries comprise 20 percent of PA donations. The European Union, which is dealing with a significant monetary and debt crisis, amount to more than half of donations to the PA. Relying on this aid is unsustainable and unlikely to continue at its pre-recession rates.

The West Bank is doing relatively well, given its circumstances. Gaza, however, relies on direct donations because its economy has been stunted by heavy-handed Israeli security. Whether justified or not, there is no doubt Israel’s security apparatus damages Gaza’s economy.  I would argue economic development and opportunity would reduce terrorism’s draw and therefore mitigate Hamas’ role in Gaza, but I’m not going to waste my time, either. Things like the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that eventually led to increased terrorist attacks in Israel have given credence to hardliners’ views. But autonomy or lack of foreign military presence does not end terrorism. Only a better standard of living can reduce terrorism. That takes time.

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