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Overcoming Foreign Dependency: Palestine’s Aid Problem

At a joint White House press conference on 28 January, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump revealed the long-awaited political framework of his Peace to Prosperity plan: a series of proposals aimed at resolving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and fulfilling the Palestinian demand for an independent state. The 180-page document rejects the Palestinian right to return and supports the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The move has since provoked criticism from the UN, which reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders, and from Palestine National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who in response to the plan announced the severing of all ties with Israel and the U.S. Beyond the feasibility of the ambitious proposals, which  include the longest road tunnel in the world, the complete lack of Palestinian involvement in the project illustrates the varied forms of foreign domination that the Occupied Palestinian Territory has historically been subjected to. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, Palestinian dependence on foreign assistance has seen it become the second largest recipient of international aid per capita in the world, yet 29% of the 4.8 million residents continue to live under the poverty line, with 2.4 million living in need of food assistance. The Palestinian experience raises questions about the effectiveness of long-term development aid that often fails to confront institutional limitations that inhibit self-sufficiency, while perpetuating the political and economic power dynamics that facilitate foreign dependency. 

History of Foreign Dependency

Palestinian reliance on international assistance has left the population vulnerable to fluctuating aid programmes that respond to changes in regional and global diplomatic interests. As recently as 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would be ending all contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which has provided humanitarian relief in the region since its creation in 1949. This reliance on foreign aid not only leaves the Palestinian population vulnerable to the whims of politicians, but has also resulted in the exertion of political and economic control by outside powers, while little is done to improve institutional structures necessary for self-sufficiency within the occupied Territory. Almost three decades ago, the 1993 Oslo Accords and 1994 Paris Protocols granted  limited administrative responsibility to the Palestinian National Authority (PA) over areas of social policy, a move that appeared to signal a shift towards institutional change. However, as the Israeli government continued to be responsible for collecting VAT import duties on behalf of the Palestinians, they remained in control of 73% of the Territory’s total net revenues. With control over the movement of people, goods, and resources in the region, the reforms only worked to cement Israel’s political and economic dominance.

Institutional Failures

As Israel maintained monetary control, aid contributions also continued to grow, nearly doubling from $424 million in 2000 to $929 million in 2001 alone. The distribution of aid also shifted, and while only 20% was allocated to development programmes, some 58% was sent to the PA. This dependency on foreign aid not only saw the PA detach its interests from the performance of the struggling local economy, but also facilitated disengagement from any practical state building efforts. By 2007, the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, a group with which the international community refuses contact, only worked to divide the territories further and fracture any future state-building prospects, while the PA continued to be plagued with accusations of corruption, mismanagement, and human rights violations. 

While diplomatic efforts have continuously failed to confront the key issues driving the conflict, international development aid has simultaneously failed to address the lack of key institutional frameworks necessary for an effective, self-sufficient administration. Behind the façade of peace talks and agreements, the PA, while plagued with its own shortcomings, remains subservient to the Israeli government for revenue and for access to the goods and infrastructure necessary for economic development. Even the ‘trade not aid’ initiatives that have sought to overcome dependency have failed to implement any meaningful reforms. In 2007, the World Bank launched the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan that saw $7.7 billion donated to help integrate the Occupied Territory into the world economy. Despite this plan, low cost labour in the Territory saw it being exploited by Israeli interests, and economic growth continued to slow to 1.3% in 2019, with the World Bank predicting negative growth in 2020 and 2021. 

Empowering Alternatives

While aid continues to be an integral part of life in the Occupied Territory, it has failed to facilitate the structural changes necessary for a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. In response to the long-term limitations and volatility of foreign dependency, Palestinians are seeking empowering alternatives to the current political deadlock and apathy. Crowdsourcing is being used to fund local projects, like Build Palestine, an online platform that connects entrepreneurs to small organisations, with the aim of giving the community the power and right to control its own resources and development. These projects stand as symbols of hope and opportunity for a people that have long been under the control of external actors.

In the European Joint Strategy in Support of Palestine, the EU, the single biggest provider of external assistance to the Palestinians, explicitly highlights the role of aid in managing the ongoing conflict, rather than seeking to achieve a lasting and inclusive solution. The Strategy further emphasises that economic recovery can only be sustained with an increase in productive capabilities and a viable economic system which can only be achieved when occupation comes to an end. International actors, especially those such as the EU, who recognise the unsustainability of current humanitarian aid, must find the courage and coordination to prioritise the establishment of legitimate and resilient social, political, and economic institutions within Palestine. In doing so, they would not only ensure Palestinian survival, but finally provide the institutional structures necessary for liberation from dependency on unpredictable and unsustainable foreign development aid. 

 

Alex Wagner

Alex Wagner is a member of the Defence and Diplomacy policy centre’s working group.

 

Bibliography

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Build Palestine (2019). Accessed 4 February 2020. https://www.buildpalestine.com/

Congressional Research Service (2018). ‘U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians.’ Accessed 3 February 2020. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22967.pdf

Hatuqa, Dalia (2019). ‘Why some Palestinians are Shunning Foreign Aid,’ The New Humanitarian. Accessed 3 February 2020. https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2019/05/14/why-some-palestinians-are-shunning-foreign-aid

Ibrahim, Nassar & Beaudet, Pierre (2012). Effective Aid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?’ Conflict, Security & Development. Accessed 3 February 2020. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14678802.2012.744181

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2013). ‘181 Israeli-PLO Economic Agreement – Paris – 29 April 1994.’ Accessed April 2 2020. https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/MFADocuments/Yearbook9/Pages/181%20Israel-PLO%20Economic%20Agreement-%20Paris-%2029%20April.aspx

Lynn, Jonathan (2008). ‘Trade not Aid, The Answer to Poverty, Economists Say’ Reuters. Accessed April 2 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-aid-development-trade-idUSLP59590620080831

Middle East Monitor (2019). ‘PA: Poverty rate in Palestinian Territories 29.2%.’ Accessed 2 February 2020. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20191224-pa-poverty-rate-in-palestinian-territories-29-2/

Stotsky, Steven (2008). ‘Does Foreign Aid Fuel Palestinian Violence?’ Middle East Quarterly 15(3). Accessed 4 February 2020. https://www.meforum.org/1926/does-foreign-aid-fuel-palestinian-violence/

The European Union (2017). ‘European Joint Strategy in Support of Palestine 2017-2019.’ Accessed 3 February 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/european_joint_strategy_in_support_of_palestine_2017-2020.pdf

The United Nations (2020). ‘Note to Correspondents: In Response to Questions on the Middle East.’ Accessed 4 February 2020. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2020-01-28/note-correspondents-response-questions-the-middle-east

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2019). ‘Report on UNCTAD Assistance to the Palestinian People: Developments in the Economy of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.’ Accessed 2 February 2020. https://unctad.org/meetings/en/SessionalDocuments/tdbex68d4_en.pdf?user=46

The United Nations Peacemaker (2019). ‘Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (Oslo Accords).’ Accessed April 2 2020. https://peacemaker.un.org/israelopt-osloaccord93

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Toameh, Khaled Abu (2020). ‘Abbas: Palestinians Will Cut All Ties with Israel, US.’ The Jerusalem Post. Accessed 3 February 2020. https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Mahmoud-Abbas-I-will-not-go-down-in-history-as-the-man-who-sold-Jerusalem-616138

Will the EU finally tend its own garden?

Why the talk of a new ‘European awakening’ in the defence sphere is just rhetorical window-dressing.

‘We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army.’ Ever since Emmanuel Macron uttered these words in November 2018, the idea of a European Army is back in vogue. A year and a half later, it might appear like the stars are aligning to create the perfect conditions for a ‘golden Era’ of European defence cooperation.

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Event Review: ‘Skills Share’ Networking Event

The Education policy centre’s goals encompass not only evaluating and recommending education policy, but also helping to enrich the experience of students who study at our university.  For this reason, we hosted ‘Skills Share’, an opportunity for current students to get helpful advice on how to excel in various stages of the job application process. The event’s premise hinged on the identification that that UK higher education is not doing enough to equip students with skills that are essential to entering the workplace following their degrees. As a result, students frequently feel lost when starting job applications and balancing them  with their studies. This is especially difficult for students from under-represented backgrounds in Higher Education, including disabled and first-generation students. 

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The worrying rise of authoritarian police responses to protests in Europe

The right to protest is a fundamental right in European democracies. Yet in recent times, states have infringed upon this right, whether through legal restrictions such as the declaration of a state of emergency, or through more tangible responses such as  policing forces on the ground. This is a worrying trend, which throws into question European governments’ commitment to protecting this right. 

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Protection of Healthcare in Areas of Conflict

In 2018, 165 ongoing conflicts were reported worldwide, including state-based, non state-based, and one-sided violence. Each conflict unarguably violates international humanitarian law by attacking healthcare provisions in its respective nation. 2020 alone has already witnessed 26 deaths of healthcare personnel and 45 injuries in 7 different countries. Recently, on 20 February 2020, two major hospitals in Yemen’s Marib Province were badly damaged by crossfire, limiting the access of 15,000 people to healthcare. In Benazir University, which sits in Somalia’s Mogadishu district, 34 medical students were attacked, of which only 18 survived. 

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Sports Initiation Culture is not worth the ‘shot(s)’: Mental Health, Alcohol, and the University Experience

It’s a Wednesday night, which means it’s time for me to start getting ready for a busy shift at the student bar. It is also time for all of us to think about, look into and discuss university sports initiations and the culture behind them. I firmly believe that education, especially at university, goes beyond academic studies., I will be sharing research and thoughts on education with a focus on culture, wellbeing and inclusion as well as incorporating potential points of policy change. Given student initiations are the baptism into society life, I consider this the best place to start the conversation. 

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The EU’s (Next) Asia Strategy

The ascension of Josep Borrell to the position of European Union (EU) High Representative (HR/VP) on 1 December 2019 places an EU strategy for Asia that reaches  beyond ‘connectivity’ at the center of the political agenda towards the region. This article does not seek to comment on whether this strategy should be carried out. Rather, it assumes that the inherent limitations of the EU’s first coordinated attempt to formulate an EU connectivity strategy for Asia – officially entitled a Joint Communication on ‘Connecting Europe and Asia – building blocks for an EU strategy’ – are sufficiently pronounced to warrant consideration of the question: What should the next strategy be called? 

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Is there space for minority voices in teaching about the past?

While British universities pride themselves as centres of international education and cosmopolitanism, an increasing number of voices in recent years have questioned the ‘global’ nature of the curriculums on offer.  A ‘global’ environment may be perceived by the extent to which it includes and continuously works towards promoting a truly diverse community. By questioning whether higher education in the UK is truly ‘global’, students around the country have begun a very important, and often neglected, conversation: which voices get to be heard in our education about the past? As a history student, my personal experience with  learning about the past at university has enabled me to reflect on whether (and how) diversity can be allowed institutionally. Universities are under pressure to diversify their history curricula and, as students, it is our responsibility to inform ourselves on this topic. However, it is even more important to look at the same problem at an earlier, and potentially more important, level: that of school education and minority voices. This article addresses the lack of diversity in university curriculums and argues that the teaching of history at schools must shift towards inclusivity and away from grand narratives. It additionally maintains that this shift is crucial in attracting students from more diverse  backgrounds to enrol in arts and humanities, and that it is the only way to combat the ‘us versus them’ mentality so prevalent in perceptions of both history and current events. 

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Event Review: Environmental Regulations & Policies in a Post-Brexit Era

On Tuesday 11 February, the Energy and Environment Policy Centre hosted an exclusive panel event as part of King’s College London’s Sustainability Week. We welcomed Scott Ainslie (Former Green Party Member of the European Parliament), Adam Bartha (Director of EPICENTER), and Professor Robert Lee (Director of the Centre for Legal Education and Research at the University of Birmingham) to discuss the future of environmental policies in the United Kingdom in the post-Brexit era. The three speakers answered multiple questions, notably on the strengths and weaknesses of the European Union’s environmental law, as well as more specific topics such as air pollution and energy policies. The speakers clearly expressed their perspectives and gave the audience a fascinating insight into the post-Brexit debate on environmental regulations.

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The European Green Deal or How to Overcome the Tragedy of the Commons

‘Our most pressing challenge is keeping our planet healthy. This is the greatest responsibility and opportunity of our times.’ 

Those words were pronounced by Ursula Von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, when she urged the European Parliament to back her European Green Deal (EGD) aiming to make Europe Carbon Neutral by 2050. 

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