How Palestinians should strategise in the face of suppressive foreign aid

How Palestinians should strategise in the face of suppressive foreign aid
Decades of over $50 billion in foreign aid has not served the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israel’s oppression. Salim Nuqul argues that effective strategising, building unity, and international alliances are what is urgently needed.
7 min read
30 Aug, 2023
International donors’ approaches have failed catastrophically in Palestine, writes Salim Nuqul. [GETTY]

Over the span of 30 years, an astonishing sum of over $50 billion in foreign aid has flooded into the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) from international donors. While serving varying purposes, aid rendered to Palestinians assumed multifaceted forms and patterns, ranging from humanitarian crisis relief and developmental projects to direct budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority (PA), donations for grassroots organisations, loans, and technical support. Despite its seemingly altruistic intentions, this financial influx has been cunningly wielded as a tool to discipline, suppress, and influence the Palestinian people.

Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka, Dr. Alaa Tartir, illuminates the harrowing consequences of this foreign funding channelled to Palestinian institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs). He highlights the profound challenges faced by the Palestinian people amidst this fraught financial landscape, the nuances of foreign aid, and alludes to the ambiguous relationship as neocolonial. He explains that there is a clear lack of transparency on projects' objectives, the amount of funding, and their breakdown in the majority of donors' programs in Palestinian National Authority (PNA) areas. This suggests that the aid has deliberately, or perhaps by a mere imbecility, contributed to the occupying state's efforts in undermining the Palestinian aspiration for an "independent" state, resulting in a gradual and inevitable demise of that dream.

''Ultimately, the provision of these financial aids has often been intertwined with specific political and social agendas, aligning with the predominant liberal political and economic interests of the Western world. This has safeguarded the interests of Israel.''

Indeed, international donors’ approaches have failed catastrophically in Palestine. Their stated intentions of supporting the construction of a Palestinian State through, inter alia, assistance to the PNA institutions, governance, and political and civil societies spaces, were barely achieved. This is evident in the apparent bias and diktats behind the funding.

Additionally, the outcomes of the donor-Palestinian relationship, revolving around three main objectives: lasting peace, effective and accountable Palestinian institutions, and sustainable socioeconomic development, have been disappointing and unfulfilled.

A history of Israeli oppression

However, it is essential to examine the Palestinian relationship with the Israeli Occupying authorities. Several reports, including by UNCTAD, indicated the extensive devastation endured by the Palestinian economy, as a result of Israel's imposition of continuous economic and political restrictions. These internationally tolerated punitive measures, amounting to approximately $50 billion in losses over the period of 2000 to 2020, have dealt a stifling blow to Palestine's economic, political, and social viability.

Moreover, the occupying state has neither upheld its obligations under the Oslo Peace Accords, nor respected international law or conventions. As a result, the envisioned peace, and the realisation of the "two-state solution" have remained elusive. It also seems evident that the international community was never genuinely committed to achieving what is often referred to as lasting peace. They either could not, or chose not, to halt the relentless Israeli assaults on Palestinian people and lands, which culminated in three inequivalent full-scale wars on Gaza and an Intifada in all Palestinian territories.

Consequently, a grim reality emerged, characterised by the incessant expansion of illegal settlements, , military raids, assassinations, and arrests carried out by Israel. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed and countless others enduring painful injuries. This has driven a growing number of Palestinians to seek refuge far from their homeland.

Furthermore, the persistent state of warfare and popular uprisings has inflicted severe blows, triggering a substantial economic downturn. For example, the Gaza Strip GDP per capita remains far below its potential, with the suffocating constraints preventing a possible increase of 50% to 100%.

Another example can be seen in Israel’s purposeful demolishing of development projects, where more than 150 European-funded development projects in the West Bank were destroyed since 2001.

All of this casts serious doubts on Israel’s sincerity in achieving lasting peace in the region. As a result, the proclaimed-intentioned efforts by donor states to foster a conducive peace environment through establishing resilient Palestinian economy, capable of nurturing prosperity and providing fertile grounds for investment and jobs, have all come to naught.

The future

So, what should happen now? It is time for Palestinians to seriously revisit the Oslo Accords and start looking for alternative pathways and alliances. Because while foreign funding is not the issue per se, it serves as an integral indicator of the West's lack of seriousness in supporting a viable and independent Palestinian state in all aspects. Furthermore, the status quo inside Palestinian territories is alarming, with the old guard either weary of the long conflict or content with the current status.

At the same time, the majority of youth feel hopeless yet yearn for prosperity and a decent life. Concerningly, statistics reveal that youth unemployment rates have surged to 40% and 60% in the PNA areas and Gaza Strip, respectively.

In a survey released in 2022, 45% of respondents prioritised having a good job over other social matters. Young people also expressed a profound lack of interest in political participation, with 84% of respondents declaring little or no interest in politics, indicating a disengagement from policymaking.

This is perhaps unsurprising given the youth's lack of trust in the official Palestinian institutions.

Additionally, the incessant rivalries between Palestinian factions, notably political parties Fateh and Hamas, have further complicated matters. Thus, this tumultuous political landscape has led to the Palestinian Authority becoming divided between two opposing governments, in Ramallah and Gaza, each vying for legitimacy as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Not to mention, Palestinians have suffered under their control.

The realm of political and civic spaces has dramatically shrunk within the PNA areas and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip over the past years, as manifested through the mounting number of detentions, security restrictions, and other suppressive measures. This has all, of course, played to Israel's advantage.

Therefore, fostering reconciliation between Palestinian factions emerges as a critical imperative in the quest for independence and statehood. Conducting legislative and presidential elections in the near future will serve as a vital bridge, uniting Palestinians in the face of Israel's occupation.

A different strategy

Against the backdrop of the bloody and unequal relation with the occupying forces, exacerbated by the political rift and coupled with the profound generational divide, the ineffectiveness of foreign funding as a carrot stick is glaringly evident.

Ultimately, the provision of these financial aids has often been intertwined with specific political and social agendas, aligning with the predominant liberal political and economic interests of the Western world. This has safeguarded the interests of Israel.

As disillusionment with the ongoing situation grows, Palestinians must urgently recalibrate their strategy for the purpose of their cause. First, this should include unifying Palestinians as a cohesive and strong entity in order to strengthen their collective voice and impact. Second, harnessing the power of media and advocacy efforts is important for the purpose of documenting and disseminating the continuous aggressions of the occupying forces. Third, diversifying the portfolio of political and economic alliances, which includes transnational companies and emerging powers and countries, will strengthen the base of influence and support. Fourth, fostering global solidarity will reinforce Palestinians’ position in the international community. Fifth, fortifying economic resilience internally means less external pressures from donors. Lastly, broadening international legal actions will serve as a pathway towards the pursuit of justice and freedom.

The mishandling of foreign funding by donors and Israeli economic measures cost the Palestinian economy over $100 billion in missed opportunities. With a different scenario, these funds could have led to a significantly improved status for the OPT. Foreign funding for Palestinian institutions has proven to be a double-edged sword. To overcome these perils, Palestinians must reassess their approach, consider new alliances, and strategise effectively in the ever-changing global landscape.

Moreover, the international community needs to take a more principled stance and actively work towards a just and lasting resolution. Only through genuine commitment, transparency, accountability, support, and cooperation can there be hope for a future where Palestinians can live in peace, security, and prosperity.

Salim Nuqul is the Managing and Research Director at Core Consultants Network. His expertise lies in Middle Eastern affairs, violent extremism, international relations, and conflict and peace-related matters in the MENA region. Nuqul holds a Master's Degree in International Affairs from King's College London and an Executive Master's Degree from the Geneva Graduate Institute in Development Policies and Practices.

Follow him on Twitter: @salimnuqul

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.