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Have USAID’s intentions ever been truly humanitarian?

January 24, 2019 at 1:55 pm

USAID workers move supplies in July 2016 [Ricardo R. Guzman/USAID Freedom of Information website]

The decision to stop funding USAID projects in Palestine is another tactic by the Trump administration to block all humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, even when such assistance is inherently compromised to suit US interests. It follows hard on the heels of cuts to US donations to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Shutting down USAID operations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is linked to the US Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018. The legislation stipulates that recipients of US aid are subject to lawsuits, should American citizens sue for harm or injuries as a result of “acts of war”. As a recipient of US assistance, the Palestinian Authority would be required to acquiesce to US legal jurisdiction if sued and be liable to pay compensation to the injured party. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is reported to have informed the US administration that the PA “unambiguously makes the choice not to accept such aid.” He had little choice, given the explicitly pro-Israel nature of recent US legislation.

Meanwhile, terminating USAID projects in Palestine was viewed by the organisation’s former Mission Director Dave Harden as demonstrating “again a lack of nuance, sophistication, and appreciation for the complexity of the situation.” The US administration, he said, “just gave Hamas more running room.” He illustrates perfectly that the distribution of US humanitarian aid is reduced to a crude “do anything to stop or hinder Hamas” formula.

READ: As US aid dries up, Palestinian infrastructure projects left unfinished

It is a mistake, however, to lament the end of USAID ventures in Palestine while ignoring the reasons why the organisation was established in the first place. Following the Marshall Plan, former President Harry Truman created a foreign policy out of international aid, one of the goals being “diminishing the threat of communism by helping countries prosper under capitalism.” Have USAID’s intentions, therefore, ever been truly humanitarian?

Ever since John F Kennedy created the organisation by executive order, USAID has focused on a theme for each decade, depending upon US foreign policy and intervention. Basic needs, free markets, sustainability and democracy ran through the 1970s until the 1990s. Since 2000, USAID has been involved in war and rebuilding. As in previous decades, no amount of assistance would have remedied the horrors unleashed by US foreign policy. Such politicisation of humanitarian assistance by removing politics from the equation contributed to a dependency cycle as the US allocated billions for war and exploitation, and meagre millions for “basic needs”. The Palestinians are no exception in this overt web of violence created by Washington.

Undoubtedly, there will be humanitarian repercussions as the US continues to isolate Palestinians even further. Yet both USAID presence and its absence signal the marginalisation stemming from Israel’s colonisation of Palestine and the international support it gets to strengthen its presence. USAID is just one of these international links cementing unavoidable dependency on humanitarian aid in the perpetual absence of a lack of representative Palestinian government, as well as coercing Palestinians into accepting international diktats.

Indeed, USAID is an integral part of the capitalist system, something which is often overlooked when discussing Palestinian humanitarian needs divested of politics. The PA, through Saeb Erekat, has described the closing of USAID operations as “pressuring and blackmailing the Palestinian leadership.” This is no time for attempting to regain the moral upper hand, however. As much as Palestinians have suffered through the imposition of humanitarian aid due to the international community’s refusal to legitimise the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, the PA is now watching its own downfall, although it will be loath to admit that its power structure has always been entirely dependent upon foreign support conditional upon it fulfilling certain specified functions. The fact that US financial aid is still likely to go to the PA Security Services — created to defend Israel, not the people of Palestine — confirms this reality.

READ: USAID to cease operations in West Bank, Gaza within months

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.