PA donors lack unified strategy

A once-united front to fund Palestinians has devolved after Hamas' victory.

PA flag 298.88 (photo credit: )
PA flag 298.88
(photo credit: )
In the wake of the Hamas electoral victory, what was for a short time a united front in the international community on the terms for funding the Palestinian Authority and humanitarian projects in the territories has devolved into a collection of strategies employed unilaterally by the largest donors to the Palestinians. Since Israel announced it was withholding tax revenues collected for the PA, the United States, European Union and other donors have all gone their own way. USAID, the US overseas development fund, is reevaluating all of its work in the Palestinian territories in the wake of Hamas's election victory amid debate among the international community about how to fund humanitarian programs without sending money to a terrorist organization. After the Hamas election, USAID spokeswoman Anna Maija Litvak said, a high-level review was initiated in Washington looking into the activities of the many partner non-governmental organizations USAID works with in the territories. That review is ongoing, Litvak said, and is looking specifically at whether money spent through those NGOs could wind up in the hands of Hamas. According to US law, it is illegal for the government or individual American citizens to contribute money to groups such as Hamas that are listed by the State Department as terrorist organizations. The review has stalled some projects in the territories USAID was already funding and put in jeopardy others that were planned for 2006. "We are on hold waiting for an answer from the US," Litvak said. "It's impossible to know at this point how it will turn out." While the agency refused to release details, that was the general message delivered by USAID to a group of international and local NGO partners during a recent meeting in Tel Aviv. The USAID money does not go directly to the PA, unlike US government loans which the PA recently returned to Washington following American demands that it do so before a Hamas-led government was sworn in. Rather, USAID money goes directly to the contractors and NGOs who are working on specific development and humanitarian projects funded by the agency. In 2005, USAID channeled a total of $275 million to projects in the Palestinian territories through more than 20 NGOs. The money went toward a variety of programs focusing on economic growth, water management, democracy and governance, health and humanitarian assistance, and job training and education, among others. According to Litvak, USAID in Washington was examining how and if it would be able to continue funding certain programs, such as infrastructure development, without dealing with a PA-led Hamas government. Such projects require coordination between local governments and the developers, Litvak said. "We can't do everything without the government," she said, adding that the political stance taken by the Bush Administration was to have no contact with Hamas until it met the three conditions laid down by the Quartet. Meanwhile, the EU is taking a "wait-and-see attitude" toward its funding for the PA and humanitarian projects in the territories, European Commission Technical Assistance Spokeswoman Anne Henriksen said. Unlike the US, the EU is continuing to fund both the PA and NGO projects in the territories until a Hamas-led government is sworn in in the Palestinian Legislative Council. It recently donated €121.5 million to aid the Palestinians, €17.5m. of which went to the PA itself while the rest was channeled through NGOs for development and humanitarian assistance. However, in that emergency funding, none went to partner NGOs which the EU also uses to carry out projects it funds. According to Henriksen, the EU has a list of pre-approved NGOs which it uses for its projects. Until now, Brussels has not conducted any large-scale review of those organizations and their possible ties to the PA and Hamas. "We are moving on with the current projects," Henriksen said, "and basically waiting for the formation of the [Palestinian] government before making any moves." EU funding to the Palestinians totaled €280m. in 2005, and an additional €220m. in projects and donations were made by individual member countries, an EU spokesman said. No budget has been laid out for 2006. Through 2005, the Palestinians were receiving around $1 billion in aid from Western governments, of which around 75 percent came from the US and European countries. That does not include Israeli tax transfers to the PA. Iran has said it would donate $250m. to the PA to supplement revenue the latter would lose as a result of the cessation of both aid money from Western governments and tax revenues collected by Israel.