The Middle East Channel

A new approach to Palestinian aid

The U.S. State Department recently warned (again) that any move by the Palestine Liberation Organization to enhance the organization's status at the United Nations would, among other things, put United States aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) at risk.

That day may not be far off. PA President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the U.N. General Assembly to upgrade Palestine to non-member state status later this month. But is a U.S. aid cutoff such a bad thing? More voices are questioning international aid to the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, with some even calling for a full boycott of the aid industry.

Palestinians do need international assistance. However, after decades of failure it is well past time to devise an alternative aid agenda that goes beyond just helping Palestinians cope with occupation while Israel pulls their land out from under them. An alternative model that makes aid effective must challenge the status quo and support the quest for freedom, rights, and self-determination. 

Before discussing how, it is worth briefly revisiting the problems with international aid. They are best illustrated by the World Bank's latest growth report for the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). The report offers a negative prognosis of the Palestinian economy and, unsurprisingly, it concludes that growth based on foreign aid is unsustainable.

Yet the World Bank's own policy prescriptions have been a large part of the problem because they heavily influence the way donors design their aid programs. Here are just two examples:

  • Conventional economic theories are applied to the OPTs and, as a result, some policy recommendations are dangerously unrealistic. The growth report actually called on the Palestinians to emulate the Asian tigers by "adopting an outward orientation and integrating into world supply chains" and said the PA should strive for a business environment "that is among the best in the world." Just how an "authority" that exercises no control over its own land, borders, and natural resources can carry out such export-based private sector growth is not explained.
  • The growth report repeats the dangerous belief that the OPTs' economy can benefit from deeper integration with the Israeli economy. The fact is Israel has made sure that such "integration" has been one-sided, allowing it to exploit a captive Palestinian market with international aid paying for the large trade deficit with Israel.

An alternative aid model would focus donors on ways to counter dispossession, keep Palestinians on their land, and challenge Israel's occupation policies and practices without forfeiting the ability to function in the OPTs. Here are three things donors can consider: promoting self-reliance in basic foods and reversing the decline of the agricultural sector; supporting cooperatives and local economic enterprises; and assisting sectors such as information technology that could break through the barriers Israel has erected around the Palestinian economy. Most importantly, they should do no harm.

None of this is impossible. During the first Intifada, and despite Israeli counter-measures, Palestinians in the OPTs reduced their economic dependence on Israel by promoting local consumption and generating local employment. The situation is much more complex today given the far greater fragmentation of the territories and illegal Israeli settlement building. Nevertheless, there is still much that can be done.

The first step must be to reverse the decline in the agricultural sector: Its contribution to GDP fell from around 13.3 percent in 1994 to 5.2 percent in 2010. This was largely due to Israeli colonization practices, particularly in Area C, which constitutes some 62 percent of the West Bank and includes its best land and water resources. However, it is also due to PA and donor neglect that left the sector seriously under-resourced. No more than 1 percent of the total annual budget has been allocated to agriculture sector since the PA was formed (around 85 percent of which goes to staff salaries) and agriculture dropped to around 0.74 percent of international total aid by 2006.

Moreover, the sector was steered from key staples to cash crops for export such as flowers, even though Israel controlled access to and from the OPTs thus reducing self-reliance.

Instead, policies should support low-intensity agriculture, using targeted subsidies to enable farmers to stay on their land and reinforce its productivity, which can also help create jobs. The food produced should be directed primarily to local markets, reducing dependency on food aid and Israeli imports.

Integrated agricultural units can be supported, as Palestinian environment expert George Kurzom suggests. For example, herbs can serve as fodder in winter, trees can provide food as well as animal feed and fuel, with tools and machinery maintained by local mechanics. Other possibilities include urban agriculture, aquaponics, and "vertical gardens" that have been piloted among Palestinian refugees in camps in Lebanon and in the OPTs. Recent youth initiatives to support farmers in their lands and encourage volunteerism, such as Fariq Saned, are inspiring examples. PA departments can assist by providing access to finance, technical assistance, and institutional memory, among other support.

Secondly, it is important to promote cooperatives and local economic enterprises. Cooperatives have also been neglected in the OPTs despite their economic potential in agribusiness, small industry, and crafts production. Cooperatives can help break barriers, overcome geographic isolation, and expand markets -- and build social solidarity and self-reliance. 

Although some aid has been directed to cooperatives, there is insufficient donor understanding that this is an economic enterprise albeit with social responsibility. Some aid unwittingly weakens cooperatives by dealing with them as charitable grant-making organizations, feeding into a culture of dependency rather than self-reliance among communities.

Rather, investment should be made in building the capacity of both the government's cooperative department and existing cooperative associations on sound governance, enterprise development, and cooperation principles. Recent investment in the capacity of women-majority Union of Cooperative Associations for Savings and Credit in the OPTs provide useful lessons.

Indeed, women's economic activity can be targeted through cooperatives since most women already work in family-based agriculture and in food and handicrafts micro-enterprises. There is in addition a need to identify new niche markets, especially in services, so as to increase both the scope and diversity of women's work.

Another avenue for donor assistance to the OPTs is to develop sustainable local enterprise networks (SLENs) that promote local market-based approaches. Samer Abdelnour has documented experiences in the Sudan as well as in Lebanon and in the OPTs. Efforts in the OPTs that could be developed among these lines include community permaculture projects in Nablus and Beit Sahour, and the fair trade initiatives Zaytoun and Canaan Fair Trade that reach international markets. Other interventions could include rooftop farming, small-scale health franchises, and certified midwives.

A third promising area for investment is the Palestinian Information Technology (IT) sector, which may be relatively impervious to strict Israeli limitations on Palestinians' freedom of movement. Investment in the sector during the aid induced upswing of 2008 to 2010 buoyed hopes. Since 2009, $78 million has been invested while IT grew from 0.8 percent to 5 percent of Palestinian GDP from 2008 to 2010 -- albeit on modest revenue of $6 million. Still, for the Palestinian economy this is a rare growth area dependent less on foreign aid than it is on private sector investment. 

U.S. technology firm CISCO, which invested $15 million in the OPTs, went so far as to say that "Palestine is on the brink of becoming the next high tech global hotspot." Google's Gisel Kordestani pointing to Palestinian strengths in education and English-language skills says they could help "build something for the Arab world."

However, even the IT sector is held hostage to the occupation. For example, Israel impeded the upgrade of Palestinian communications hardware necessary for an IT sector to flourish and does not provide frequencies for 3G services putting them at a great competitive disadvantage. Moreover, there is the danger that Israeli companies will reap the lion's share of the rewards, reinforcing unjust hierarchies of control that make growth impossible under occupation. A warning sign is that Israel itself is soliciting European donors for this sector.

Finally, there is the issue of doing no harm. Some of the same donors who fund Palestinian development also fund PA security collaboration with Israel and projects aimed at "normalizing" the occupation. They are now being challenged by the youth movement as well as by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Some voices are calling on Palestinians to decline aid from nations that directly support Israeli military activities.

An alternative aid agenda would need political protection by donor agencies and their governments because it would pose a direct challenge to Israel's colonial enterprise.

Further, an alternative model encompassing the kinds of policies and programs described above would have to be linked to a political process that secures Palestinian rights under international law. Otherwise donors are simply soothing the pain while Israel continues to colonize and dispossess the Palestinian people.

Nadia Hijab, Alaa Tartir, and Jeremy Wildeman are, respectively, Director, Program Director, and Guest Author of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.

The Middle East Channel

Suicide car bomber kills 31 people at an Iraqi army base

A suicide car bombing at an army base outside of Baghdad killed an estimated 31 people, most believed to be Iraqi soldiers, and injured another 50 in one of the worst attacks this year on the country's security forces. The attacker drove his explosive-filled car into a group of soldiers and recruits at the Taji base, about 12 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Casualties were high because a large number of soldiers were outside the base for a shift change around midday. Authorities have said they expect the death toll to rise as many of those wounded sustained critical injuries. This was the second attack in Taji in less than 24 hours, as a car bomb targeted a nearby army patrol, wounding eight people. Another bombing hit a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad on Monday, killing four people. Violence has decreased in Iraq since its peak in 2006 and 2007. However insurgent attacks are still frequent and there has been at least one major attack a month since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December 2011.   


Syria saw some of the worst violence in months on Monday as U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called the situation a "big catastrophe." According to the activist Local Coordinating Committees, at least 159 people were killed across Syria on Monday. An Islamist car suicide bomber, reportedly from al-Nusra Front, drove into a center used as a base by Syrian security forces and pro-government militia in Hama province, killing at least 50 people. The attack was among the worst on President Bashar al-Assad's forces since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. However, Syrian state media said that just two civilians had died. Clashes also raged in Damascus between Palestinian factions in the Yarmouk and Tadamon neighborhoods in rare infighting with the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine fighting on behalf of the Assad regime. A car bombing claimed by the opposition Free Syria Army hit Mezze 86, a pro-government Damascus neighborhood near Assad's offices, killed at least 11 people and injured more than 30 others. Government airstrikes continued across the country on Monday, many concentrated in Idlib province. On Tuesday, gunmen killed Mohammed Osama Laham, brother of Syria's Parliament Speaker Jihad Laham while he was on his way to work in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan. In another blow to the regime, seven Syrian generals reportedly defected to Turkey.


  • Turkey has begun a trial in absentia of four Israeli senior former military commanders of the 2010 raid of an aid flotilla to Gaza that killed nine Turks, a move dismissed by Israel as a "show trial."
  • Saudi Arabia has named long time security chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as interior minister in one of the first ascensions of the next generation of Saudi princes.
  • Israel has announced plans to begin construction on 1,213 new West Bank settlement homes.
  • Rival government aligned militias battled in Libya's western city of al-Khoms a day after clashes in Tripoli.

Arguments and Analysis

Gulf cools towards Muslim Brothers (Alain Gresh, Le Monde diplomatique)

"Dubai's chief of police, General Dahi Khalfan al-Tamim, claims that the Muslim Brotherhood is "a small group that has strayed from the true path." He also says that the revolution in Egypt "would not have been possible without Iran's support and is the prelude to a new Sykes-Picot agreement" (1). And that Mohammed Morsi's election in Egypt was "an unfortunate choice." Like many leading figures in the Arab world, Al-Tamin uses Twitter, where he has said: "If the Muslim Brotherhood threatens the Gulf's security, the blood that flows will drown it."

Throughout this summer, Al-Tamin criticised the Brotherhood, which he calls "a sinful gang whose demise is drawing near", and called for their assets and bank accounts to be frozen (2). The authorities in the UAE, of which Dubai is a part, have brought around 60 of the Brothers to court, charged with plotting against the regime."

The creation of Palestinian citizenship under an international mandate: 1918-1925 (Lauren Banko, OpenDemocracy)

"The British civil administration of Palestine began in 1920 under High Commissioner Herbert Samuel with a very clear policy plan for the facilitation of Jewish immigration and the creation of a national status for Jewish immigrants - but little else was clear in terms of how to carry out the proper legislative processes, especially for the latter, once the League of Nations ratified the Palestine Mandate.  The entire process of inventing a legal Palestinian citizenship in the crucial early 1920s raised huge questions over the status, sovereignty and civil rights of subjects as opposed to nationals or citizens in a mandated territory. British notions of citizenship were finally imported into Palestine after approval by His Majesty's Government (HMG) in London, and blended with existing Ottoman-era legislation, Palestinian municipal law and international laws of state succession."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey