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The political price of US aid

May 5, 2014 at 3:11 pm

The obviously orchestrated decision by the American and Israeli governments to release millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority (PA) may be too little too late. If the purpose was to create some movement towards a peace agreement it’s not going to happen. While the money may grant a temporary respite to the cash-strapped authority in Ramallah, ordinary Palestinians know that it will take much more than dollars to deliver them from the suffocating burden of Israel’s occupation.

This sentiment was expressed dramatically by Rabee’ Eid, the Palestinian university student who interrupted President Obama’s speech at the International Convention Centre in occupied Jerusalem during his recent visit: “Have you really come to promote the peace process or to provide Israel with more weapons to kill the Palestinian people… On your way here did you see the racist separation wall?”

Witnesses knew instinctively that this was not the desperate outburst of someone seeking a hand-out. On the contrary, it was the defiant cry of a proud Palestinian who happens to be a second-class citizen of Israel demanding political rights for his people.

On the question of US aid, Abdus Satar Qassim, the outspoken professor of Political Science at An-Najah National University in Nablus, described it as an attempt to buy Palestine and the national rights of its people. “When your hand is the lower one you can never stand tall and demand independence and dignity; you are without dignity, without rights and without humanity.” Furthermore, he said, “He who cannot find strength except from the hand of his enemy does not deserve to live.”

However generous the American assistance may appear, the truth is that there is no strategy for resolving the conflict. Obama is giving no more than a package of confidence-building measures intended to clear the way for the resumption of direct negotiations within the next three to six months.

In the case of Israel, the situation is marginally different since the released funds are not aid but tax revenues which belong to the Palestinians by right. Feigning magnanimity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the regular transfer of the revenue, without any special dispensation from himself. The cash has been withheld since November last year after Palestine’s upgrade of status at the UN.

Other sweeteners have been proposed for the Ramallah Authority. These include the release of prisoners serving long sentences in Israel’s prisons; 120 of them were incarcerated before the Oslo agreement. There is also talk of removing some of the check-points in the West Bank and beefing-up arms supplies for PA security forces. Of course the latter would only happen if there are cast-iron guarantees that the weapons will be used to crush political dissent, especially the Islamic opposition.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, the old saying goes, and Palestinian politics is no exception. The Ramallah Authority will have to pay a price for these so-called goodwill gestures. For starters, they must return to the negotiating table; unconditionally, as the Israelis have demanded, and according to Tel Aviv’s agenda.

Furthermore, there must be no more unilateral initiatives at the UN; no attempt to prosecute Israelis before any international court; and a clear undertaking to combat “incitement” and “hatred”, a euphemism for criticism of Israeli policies in the Palestinian media. The sharp-eyed among us will have noticed that far from being “unconditional”, the Palestinians have been told in no uncertain terms that they must abide by Israel’s conditions.

Although the US would not allow the PA to collapse through lack of funds, its release of $500 million is no life-changing offer. During a debate on his $3.8 billion budget for 2013, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad warned of austerity, the buzzword used to disguise financial failure and ineptitude. In the absence of a sitting parliament – 25 members of Palestine’s are held in Israeli jails – Fayyad told a gathering of journalists and interested parties, “If we had 154,000 employees at the end of 2012, that figure would remain as it is at the end of 2013”. In other words, there will be no new jobs.

He could have added a caveat that some opportunities may be found in the security services. Fayyad’s promise that spending on the security agencies would be cut by 50 million shekels does nothing to conceal the fact that security will still devour 30 per cent of the overall budget. Why does the PA need 8 different security agencies? Who knows, but their 80,000 officers will be the only people smiling all the way to the bank.

Ultimately, neither US aid nor the customs revenue will change the harsh realities on the ground. All the signs suggest that the PA will return to the negotiating table, in spite of Israel’s colonial settlement of the West Bank and Jerusalem. To save face, the PA will continue to speak of a state with Jerusalem as its capital and all the other tired slogans.

Few will recall that it was Obama who, in his 2009 Cairo speech, set the stage for Abbas to insist on an end to settlement building to facilitate successful negotiations. As we wait for the PA’s humiliating about-turn, we can reflect that this is the natural outcome when economic aid is used as a political weapon.

The Palestinian commentator Rashad Abu Shaawar spoke for many when he said that such aid “does not worth a drop of blood of a single martyr or a grain of Palestinian land stolen by the Zionists.” The political price of US aid is high indeed, and the Palestinians are about to pay it.