International aid streaming into the PA is being squandered on establishing a military framework.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
According to the draft UN report quoted last week by Britain's Independent, about half of all Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza suffer from malnutrition. In Gaza alone, the report claims, four out of five families are unable to obtain basic foodstuffs and vital nutrients.
In all, the report asserts, no less than 46% of all households under Palestinian rule either already experience "food insecurity," or are on the verge of becoming insecure about their daily bread.
The report, moreover, all but accuses Israel of culpability for the rampant deprivation it claims exists throughout the PA, "primarily as a function of restricted economic access to food resulting from ongoing political conditions." Chief among these conditions are restrictions enforced by the Quartet (including the UN itself, the US, EU and Russia) since Hamas's ascent to power in 2006 and its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce terror and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The report's implication is clear: unless restrictions are eased, Palestinians will starve.
There's little doubt that this is the political agenda which inspired the UN report. Indeed Russia already balks at the restrictions. In an odd formulation that seems to imply that the Quartet is incapable of independent thinking, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov opined that "the Quartet must lift the financial and economic sanctions imposed by Israel." The EU too may prefer a softer approach to the PA following the Mecca coalition deal between Hamas and Fatah. The UN report could certainly provide impetus and ostensible urgency for such backtracking.
But are things indeed so bleak? Not if we lend an ear to declarations from the PA itself. No other than PA Finance Minister Samir Abu-Aisha has disclosed that foreign aid streaming from abroad (not counting UNRWA's $462 million 2006 budget) has doubled during Hamas's 2006 tenure. Thus $720m. was donated by foreign governments directly to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, as if thereby these funds would bypass the Hamas regime. Pre-Hamas, in 2005, the PA received only $350m. in such foreign largesse.
Judging by these numbers, the Palestinian areas should have been economically better off in 2006 than 2005. Whatever may or may not have gone awry isn't because the PA is cash-strapped but because its income isn't being spent on its citizens' welfare. Directly or indirectly, much of it is all-too evidently being squandered on establishing a military framework, arming Gaza to its teeth, gunrunning on a vast scale and importing increasingly more sophisticated rocketry, whose only conceivable raison d'etre is targeting Israeli cities.
At the same time, the hothouses and agricultural infrastructure left by Israel for Palestinian farmers after 2005's disengagement have not been used to generate income but were reduced to ruins and returned to the desert which existed prior to Jewish settlement.
The attempt to once again blame Israel will not change the obvious facts: If anyone is hungry in Gaza, it is first and foremost because the PA's Hamas-dominated leaders would rather kill Israelis than feed their own people.
Given the international indifference to the inverse relationship between financial assistance and the actual well-being of Palestinians, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that donor nations care little how their money is spent. If they did, international assistance would be strictly linked to the establishment of the rule of law that is a critical prerequisite to real democratization, and to dismantling the roving militias dedicated to attacking Israel and each other.
Had all the PA's wherewithal been spent on improving the lot of its people, things would have been very different. Nothing obliges the Palestinian government to concentrate on infighting and terrorist reinforcements. It knows, as do all its solicitous overseas well-wishers, that Israel has no offensive intentions towards the PA and would like nothing better than peaceful coexistence with it.
Fatah and Hamas are both calling for giving their partnership a chance. The international community stands ready to help if this partnership produces more peace and less terror. What is even more necessary to demonstrate, however, is that a continuation of chaos and belligerency will be met with a sharp reduction in aid.
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