Posted on December 26, 1994 in Washington Watch
While the PLO is expected to jump through hoops to qualify for limited U.S. assistance and support in the peace process, Israel receives unconditional aid in an amount that far exceeds the paltry Palestinian sum.
In addition to the annual Congressional appropriation of $3 billion (and hundreds of millions more in other defense-related contracts), this year Israeli received an outright add-on grant of $80 million to support Russian Jewish resettlement projects. This last amount is larger than the total U.S. appropriation for fiscal year 1995 to the Palestinians.
While U.S. aid to the Palestinians is conditional on the PLO’s compliance with “terms of the peace process” as defined by the U.S. Congress (which literally translates to commitments demanded by the pro-Israel lobby in Congress), U.S. aid to Israel is exempt from political conditions and is even exempt from any Congressional or bureaucratic oversight. In other words, the “accountability and transparency” requirements that apply to the PLO and every other U.S. aid recipient do not apply to the government of Israel.
In order to certify that the PLO has met the conditions of U.S. aid, the State Department earlier this month issued a report on PLO performance (combating terrorism, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, ending the Arab boycott of Israel, etc.). The report was generally favorable and so next week, the President will almost certainly declare that the PLO is qualified to receive its 1995 aid allotment.
What is troubling, however, is not only the fact that the burden of compliance falls exclusively and unfairly on only the Palestinians, but that the U.S. assistance once granted is so bureaucratically encumbered that the Palestinian do not really receive the full benefits of this aid.
Unlike the $3 billion in U.S. aid to Israel, the $75 million to the Palestinian is not given directly to the Palestinian national authority. In fact, Israel is the only country of all the U.S. aid recipients to receive direct cash grant. All other recipients have their aid administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), and so it is for the Palestinian aid.
U.S. Aid to Palestinians
Of the $500 million pledged by the United States at the October 12, 1993 donors conference, only $375 million was intended as direct aid. The other $125 million was, in fact, loan guarantees (not loans) to support U.S. private investors seeking joint ventures with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The loan guarantees program is one of the better U.S. international support projects since it provides risk insurance and guarantees for U.S. investors who use commercial bank loans to put capital to work in the West Bank and Gaza. Already, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. agency that oversees the loan guarantee program, has announced that they are working with five U.S. investors who have partnerships with West Bank and Gaza businessmen. These first five joint ventures will take advantage of $90 million in loan guarantees and political risk insurance. The $90 million invested will generate over 4,000 jobs in the Palestinian territories.
Unfortunately, the story of direct U.S. aid is not so positive. While AID has issued its 1994 final report showing actual disbursements to West Bank and Gaza of $75 million, almost half of that amount has not actually been disbursed. And of the amount that has been given, two-thirds has been in the form of direct assistance toward start up costs for the Palestinian Authority.
With the exception of the one AID funded housing project (which, after six months, remains a barely started foundation), the remaining millions of AID disbursements have been to the U.S. private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and some Washington-based consultant groups to provide studies, training and technical assistance either to AID itself or to Palestinians. The problem with these “technical assistance” programs, of course, is that they do not create needed jobs or investment in Gaza and they have been designed by AID itself and awarded to U.S. contractors without any consultation with the Palestinian leadership.
For example, the $11 million technical training program to support the Palestinian private sector and small business development was rewarded to a U.S.-based PVO that has had no experience in the Middle East (they had received a previous AID contract in Russia). Not only that, but AID developed the proposal and awarded it to an American group without any discussion with PECDAR, Nabil Shaath, (Minister for Economic Development or Abu Ala’a (Minister of Economic Planning) – so much for accountability. Palestinians have complained to me that the $2.5 million AID has awarded to U.S. groups to support the U.S. “Democracy Initiative ” in the West Bank and Gaza has also been used to design programs and implement activities in the territories without any relationship whatever with existing PNA institutions.
So while the PLO must comply with rigid accountability and transparency requirements to receive aid, and must pass political compliance tests to even qualify for this assistance, these burdens fall unfairly on them and they do not directly receive the benefits of the aid for all their efforts.
Israeli Compliance With Terms of Peace
No examination has been made, nor is one even required, as to whether or not Israel has complied with its commitments to the peace process in order to continue U.S. aid. Any such review, however, would reveal a disturbing pattern of non-compliance. Most significant are Israel’s violations in the following areas:
Â· Settlement building and land confiscation,
Â· Continued human rights violations,
Â· Violations of Palestinian rights due to the closure of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and
Â· Failure to implement the terms of the agreement itself.
Since the September 13, 1993 signing of the Declaration of Principles, the government of Israel has confiscated or sealed off almost 25,000 acres of Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, the Rabin government has continued to build housing units in the occupied territories at a steady pace. In what Israel calls “Greater Jerusalem” – which extends as much as eight miles into the West Bank – the government has planned for the construction of 15,000 new homes (in addition to the 13,000 units started by the Likud government and now being completed by the Labor government). In the rest of the West Bank, the Laborites have planned or concluded another 4,000 new homes (in addition to the 11,500 units that were started by the Likud government which they have pledged to complete).
The Israeli government claims that the majority of the new construction is private and not government (in order to technically comply with the U.S.-Israel agreement regarding U.S. loan guarantees), but there is significant government involvement in all of this construction and, in any case, international law holds the occupying authority responsible for all such activities in areas under its control.
A number of human rights organizations have reported the continued practice by both the official occupation forces and armed groups of settlers to uproot, bulldoze or otherwise destroy Palestinian fruit trees. In just the month of October, for example, al-Haq (the Palestinian branch of the International Commission of Jurists), reported three serious instance in which settlers destroyed 558 dunums of Palestinian fruit trees. In cases such as this, Palestinians have no legal recourse.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem also issued a report documenting Israel’s human rights record during the first year of peace. They have found that the implementation of the autonomy plan “has not put an end to the violations of human rights by Israeli authorities in the occupied territories.” The report lists ongoing violations, including:
Â· unnecessary lethal use of arms,
Â· house demolitions by means of massive firepower,
Â· arbitrary restrictions on movement,
Â· severe bureaucratic and other harassment, and
Â· discrimination in law enforcement for offenses committed by Israeli citizens against Palestinians.
The frequent and sustained Israeli closures of the West Bank and Gaza and the permanent closure of Jerusalem are a special concern to the Palestinians since these acts of collective punishment create severe hardships for the entire Palestinian population and endanger Palestinian confidence in the peace process.
In the case of the closure of Gaza to both workers and goods, the Israelis argue that it is a security measure. Yet Israeli Prime Minister Rabin has admitted that no Palestinian workers with permits to work in Israel have ever been linked to any violence in Israel. Also 1,300 students from Gaza have been prevented from attending school in the West Bank as a result of the closure and yet none of these students have been linked to any violent activity.
Equally troubling has been the impact of the closures on Palestinian trade and commerce. The closure in effect blockades Gaza and Jericho from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. The results have been devastating. Unemployment has grown to 50 percent. Exports have all but stopped and the Palestinian Gross National Product dropped by 25% compared to last May. Reductions in employment result in reductions in tax collections, thereby denying the PNA needed revenues to operate basic services. This economic uncertainty in turn leads to a decline in private investment and the hope of creating new jobs.
In addition to this issue the PLO has listed a number of areas where, seven months after the signing of the Cairo Accords, many of its important requirements remain unimplemented by the Israeli government. Among them are:
“1) The safe passage between Gaza and Jericho is inoperative. ...The [Israelis] insisted on blocking Gazans who use the passage to Jericho from entering the West Bank. This is in violation of the Crossing Points article (on page 20 of the Agreement) which considers passage from Jericho to the West Bank akin to passage within the West Bank, requiring no permit or even an official crossing point. In effect, Israel wants to separate Gaza from the West Bank, requiring Gazans to obtain the same permit it requires them to have when crossing into Israel.
“2) Palestinian political prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails and detention camps are still there despite the Cairo Agreement requirements. More than six thousand of them are still denied their freedom….
“3) The Economic Agreement is only partially implemented. Taxes and custom duties are collected by Israel. Rebates to the Palestinian authority are partial and delayed. It took six months to make Palestinian import permits acceptable at Israeli entry points. Palestinian exports to Israel face serious problems….
“4) The Cairo Agreement’s Second Annex requires Israel to submit to the PNA water consumption figures for the settlements in Gaza prior to the transfer of power to the PNA. Furthermore, it requires Israel to submit meter readings for every single well in the Settlements on a periodic basis. This has not been implemented.
“5) The same Annex requires Israel to deliver to the PNA a complete list of all the archeological artifacts it had removed from Gaza and Jericho. It has failed so far to do so.
“6) No progress his made by Israel on continuing to deliver back to the PNA areas on the Beach of the Mawassi. No progress is made on the area of Jericho to be delivered to the PNA.
“7) Four months have passed after the deadline of July 13 for the elections, redeployment in the West Bank, and deployment of the Palestinian Police. This is one of the most damaging aspects of the problems of the peace process.
“8) Implementation of the Early Empowerment Agreement signed in August is not yet complete. Israel added a new requirement to the Agreement, which is availability of donor funding for the potential shortfall in tax collection in the West Bank. No such condition exists in the Agreement.”
Any objective observer would note that Israel’s failures to comply with the terms of the peace process are greater in their severity than those alleged against the Palestinians. And yet, it remains only one of the ironies of the peace process that the burden of compliance falls exclusively on the Palestinians.
Jerusalem: An Example
An example of the ironies that abound in this entire question of compliance can be seen in the U.S. and Israeli positions on Jerusalem.
Due to the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP), the sovereignty of Jerusalem is to be determined in final status negotiations between the two parties, U.S. policy toward the eastern portion of the city (occupied since 1967) has gone through a subtle but significant transformation.
U.S. policy has long considered the entire question of Jerusalem as unresolved (since this nation like every other does not place an embassy in that city), but the U.S. has consistently maintained that the eastern portion of the city, including the large swathes of land to its North, South and West, to be “occupied territory.” Since the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian DOP and the recognition of Jerusalem as a “final status” issue, it is the Palestinians who have lost in both policy and practice.
Israel has continued its closure of the entirety of the expanded and self-declared “annexed” portions of Jerusalem. Palestinians from the West Bank are then regularly denied access to the medical, religious, social, cultural and educational institutions of the eastern part of the city. Jerusalem, which was a multi-faceted center for West Bank Palestinian social life, has now become, to them, a no man’s land.
The U.S. Congress and Administration pay little attention to Israeli actions that are prejudice to the final status of Jerusalem. The closure and the expanded Jewish construction in the Palestinian areas around the city continue unabated. And while ignoring these Israeli actions, Congress has moved to forbid U.S. agencies or agents from dealing with Palestinian officials in Jerusalem – so as “not to prejudice the final status negotiations.” Even OPIC loan guarantees are not applicable to any U.S.-Palestinian joint venture to invest capital in the eastern part of the city.
Members of Congress regularly join in Israeli expressions of outrage over PLO Chairman Yasir `Arafat’s comments on the Palestinian intention to see Jerusalem as the cultural capital of a Palestinian state. But they ignore the repeated claims by Israel that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel. Prime Minister Rabin himself has on a number of occasions stated his belief that “Jerusalem” will remain united and under Israeli sovereignty.”
And in this context, it is bizarre that no one understands how odd it was for 279 Congressmen to sign a letter to President Clinton in October in which they claimed: “we remain unwavering in our belief that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital – and only Israel’s capital – and that it must remain a united city under Israeli sovereignty.” The letter goes on to state “we support the action taken by the U.S. Congress to prohibit any new offices or meetings in Jerusalem to deal with the Palestinian Authority. Jerusalem is the capital of only one country, Israel, and we urge you to implement a policy that does not in any way support a Palestinian claim to the city. ”
And so the questions that must be asked are who is in compliance and who is not and can the U.S. Congress (as driven as it is by pro-Israel sentiment) act as an effective and neutral arbiter on this matter?
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