Edition 2: No. 102
by Ranjan Solomon
“If you have come to help me, you are
wasting your time. But if you have
come because your liberation is
bound up with mine, then let us walk
(Lila Watson, Australian Aboriginal woman)
Despite the hullabaloo about Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestine and the huge noise about the overwhelming vote in the British Parliament asking that Palestine be recognized by Britain, large numbers of discerning Palestinians are unimpressed. A candid and hard-hitting response from a woman on the Palestine street was brusque: ‘Let them keep the vote’, she said. She was principally saying that gestures and aid and stuff made of symbolism and measures in the western world that merely pull wool over the eyes of the Palestinians are not wanted. Palestinians want a solution that is tangible in terms of real justice and dignity.
Within days of the British Parliament vote, Baroness Warsi, a foreign office minister until just two months ago in the Conservative government said that the government has “ignored” a vote by MPs that had proposed official recognition of Palestine. Lady Warsi said she had received a “stock answer” when she raised the vote in the House of Lords. The government said it would “judge when it is right” to make a decision. After such an overwhelming vote one would have thought that a country that virtually claims copyrights over the idea of ‘democracy’ would only be willing to say: “Clearly you judge criteria on a fluid system – you watch, you wait, you encourage the Middle East peace process to continue but one doesn’t give up.” Empty words that border on the nonsensical! Foreign office minister, Baroness Anelay, told peers the government would take a decision on recognizing the state of Palestine “at a time of our choosing, when we think it will best bring about peace”. Indeed! This is the same country which once colonized over 70 countries and never thought it fit to get out until it was driven out. “The sun”, its leaders then arrogantly claimed “never sets on the British Empire” meaning it ruled in countries far and many in between so that there were always some countries under the British Empire enjoying sunlight while other parts were asleep at night! As it turns out, the sun did set and the British were often found running with their tales between their legs. That might be the only message of consolation for Palestinians- that the British may be in control for a while. But ONLY for a while! It, like its political big brother, the USA, is a power in decline.
Not Israel – the racist regime that lords over a racist, apartheid-style dispensation and doubles as occupier and colonizer?
Even Sweden’s move was media-massaged. After Sweden announced its intent to recognize Palestine, a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Sweden ensued. An angry and open disapproval from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, softened the Swedish stand. Sweden’s Social Democratic Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, toned down his rhetoric saying that Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state will take place as part of a bilateral negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinians. He did not set a date for when such a move would occur and might, still, hide behind the fact that Sweden’s Social Democrats and their allies in the Greens hold only a minority of seats in Parliament.
Prominent Social Democratic deputies publicly stated that they understand Israel’s core security interests. Swedish Social Democrats are not tainted with a broad-based anti-Israel view but there is a struggle unfolding in the party to define its policies toward the Jewish state.
Most Western nations still don’t recognize Palestine. EU member states like Hungary and Poland that do recognize a Palestinian state did so before they joined the bloc. On the other hand, 134 countries out of 193 UN member states recognize Palestine.
Europe’s hypocrisy must also be seen in its manner of support to Palestine. The EU’s much touted aid packages are big ticket announcements which have brought proportionately negligible gains to the Palestinians. Much of EU aid and aid from individual European nations ends up in the pockets of European nationals who operate as self-styled ‘Middle east experts’ in multiple fields and live in Jerusalem and selected (and safe) Palestinian areas where they are protected from potential harm. Palestinians ask: “If that’s how terrified and anxious you are for your safety, why come at all? Don’t you see that security is the Palestinian worry?” Israel has the world’s fourth largest army protecting them from virtually unarmed people. Palestinians, at best (or worst), are armed only with crude weapons which can hardly dent the Israel population’s wall of protection!
In 2010, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to abide by “its international legal obligation” to remove the settlements and to end its “blatantly discriminatory practices” in the occupied territories. Similar calls have come from churches, civil soviet groups, solidarity activists from around the world, aid groups, peace groups from within Israel, and justice activists from Palestine. The UN has repeatedly voted for measures designed to end the occupation. Israel’s conceited response has been to show arrogant disregard for the will of the community of nations. Rather than invest in pressurizing Israel to abide by these UN resolutions and rulings of duly constituted international bodies, the EU and its member countries seek to obfuscate the reality and pump in money to offer relief for the ‘suffering’ Palestine. And the Palestinian says: “We want justice; not aid”. They go further. An activist at a meeting of APRODEV-CIDSE meeting in Brussels in 2010 said in plain terms: “You are camouflaging the severity of the occupation with your aid packages. Suspend them and the world will get a glimpse of just how barbaric the occupation is. Even Israel wants you to be in the business of hand-outs. It makes them look good. Invest in justice not peace and charity”!
In an incisive piece in the Palestine Chronicle: “EU Aid to Palestinians – Help or Hindrance”?, Andreas Hackl analyzes the patterns of EU humanitarian, economic and political Aid to Palestine – 426 million euros (US$575 million) in 2013 alone. She offers a critical perspective: “Much of this aid to the Palestinian people is focused on a single long-term objective, according to EU officials – the building up of the institutions of a future democratic, independent and viable Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.
Hackl goes on to argue: “But with limited progress so far in the current US-brokered peace talks and the wider aim of the realization of a Palestinian state, some in the more austerity-minded EU are starting to wonder if the aid is being well spent, when humanitarian crises in Syria and Mali are in need of greater funds…By now there is no Palestinian state. The point is: what are we funding here? Are we helping Israel to maintain the occupation, or are we actually helping Palestinians to build independence?”
Caroline du Plessix, a French political scientist specialized on EU policy towards the two-state-solution, states. “EU member states are today much more aware than before that their aid has not made possible the creation of an independent Palestinian state.” She adds: “The EU is trying to figure out what the best strategy may be. Member states need to show that their policy is reaching its ends and is effective. But if the main solution still is the two-state-solution and we are not really going in that direction, this policy is not sustainable and cannot go on forever.”
Yet, any lessening in EU aid seems unlikely largely because it would drastically affect the Palestinian economy and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families. On the other hand, EU foreign ministers are making unprecedented offers, setting out a very substantial set of incentives designed to encourage both parties to finalize a peace agreement.
EU sources admit that “they may inadvertently be playing a political role by helping prop up the status quo, giving life-support services that should normally be provided by Israel, as the occupying power.”
“EU funding is strategic. Its main aim is to prevent instability. It is thus scared of the PA’s breakdown,” said Caroline Du Plessix.
In the same article, Sami Abu Roza, former economic policy adviser to the Palestinian president, describes how this system of dependency has a bitter political aftertaste. “If you take away the good intention behind the money, aid is a substitute for not having real remedies.” He rues that the “EU’s approach to solving the conflict, he says, is part of a larger trend he calls “peaceconomics”, the feeding of an illusionary idea that institution-building and economic aid can contribute to real progress, while the actual political causes behind the difficult situation are side-lined and remain unresolved.
“The EU’s attitude towards Palestinians is patronizing, as if money was the only thing Palestinians needed,” he said, adding: “They are sacrificing real solutions for economic aid, building a smoke screen around the real problems.”
“Palestinians know that any money coming to Palestinians is political. But they also know that the world won’t stop paying for Palestinians under occupation. That’s the strange kind of peace Palestinians live in.”
At the end of the day, the notion of independence remains unreal. “We don’t have control of our own borders, no taxation, and all of Area C is under Israel’s control. What economic independence are we speaking of?” says Roza, adding that the PA was not created to become a social entity providing salaries and services to Palestinians. “Its aim was political, and so are our problems.”
Simply put: “Aid has not helped to fulfill Palestinians dreams, nor did it lead to sustainable development. Independence is today further away than 20 years ago,” Alaa Tartir, program director of the Palestinian Policy Network states.
Despite the contradictions in EU aid policy, it is clear that without EU aid the humanitarian situation in OPT would worsen significantly. One beneficiary of the EU’s direct assistance to the PA is 49-year-old Said Samara, a teacher at the Secondary Boarding School in Ramallah. “As a teacher, I hope that this aid will continue. But as a teacher, and for my students, I also need some hope for an independent Palestinian country,” he said.
As this issue of Palestine Update is being written, a consortium of aid giving countries has pledged over 5 billion US Dollars towards reconstructing Gaza after the brutal Israel assault in August. Observers and donors too, are asking: “What if we have to meet in the next two years to repeat this exercise just as we have done in the past?” For after all, Israel’s patience with Gaza runs out every 2-3 years and they bomb Gaza as if Israel’s very survival depended on reducing Gaza to rubble.
No amount of aid will bring Palestinians their freedom, justice, and dignity. A political agenda that cripples Israel’s ability to remain the occupier is the only way forward. The BDS Movement offers what is clearly the most tangible choice- one which will be punitive but not violent. It will isolate Israel and render its economic options vulnerable. That and that alone, coupled with peaceful resistance, street protests in Palestine and other forms of creative but non-violent resistance around the world will bring Israel to reckon with the illegality and immorality of its occupation.
Europe is clearly not helping the Palestinian cause. It is perpetuating Palestinian suffering by its tacit support to the occupation and giving the occupation a face life through its life support aid patterns. It’s like keeping a patient on ventilation. The effort looks impressive but the root cause must be tackled before cure and recovery set in.
The Palestinian woman’s words must echo around the world: “Keep your vote.” And we might add “Keep your aid too… We want justice and justice only”.
Refer : EU Aid to Palestinians – Help or Hindrance”?,