Lebanon Crisis Re-ignites/ Aid to the Palestinians
Jan 25, 2007 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
January 25, 2007
Number 01/07 #09
This Update is devoted primarily to the crisis in Lebanon on Tuesday, when Hezbollah and its allies launched a general strike in an effort to overthrow the anti-Syrian Siniora government, and its supporters blocked streets and public transport and burned tyres and cars, leading to violent clashes. Hezbollah called off the strike yesterday, but warned of a “new escalation” if the government does not surrender to its demands.
First up, a good eyewitness account of the confrontation comes from Beirut-based journalist Zvika Krieger. He describe the roadblocks, the behaviour and attitude of Hezbollah supporters, (including one who hates America but loves the Los Angeles Lakers) and the reaction of government supporters. For this insider account of what really happened in Lebanon, CLICK HERE.
Next, looking at the bigger picture in Lebanon, and especially the urgency of a new aid conference for Lebanon occurring in Paris today, is David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He explores the motivation for and background to the Hezbollah general strike, but also explains the role of aid in keeping the government in power, and analyses the reforms Siniora is willing to adopt in return. For Schenker’s helpful discussion of the political and economic side of the Lebanon crisis, CLICK HERE.
Moving from the need for aid to Lebanon’s Siniora government, this Update also includes an important piece on aid levels to the Palestinians. Bin Dror Yemini, the opinion editor at the Israeli daily Maariv, collects facts to show that, contrary to popular international perception, the Palestinians are not exceptionally poor, and moreover, have received more aid per capita than any other people in the world, much of it from the United State. He also points out that it is the Palestinian leadership that has made aid ineffective by its obsession with confrontation with Israel. For his argument that future aid to the Palestinians must be directed toward weaning them off their self-destructive policies, CLICK HERE.
by Zvika Krieger
The New Republic Online, Post date: 01.24.07
There is nothing like waking up to the smell of burning tires. Looking out the window of my eighth-floor Beirut apartment, I have to rub my eyes more than once to make sure I am actually seeing plumes of smoke rising from all corners of the city. Are the Israelis invading again? There is no way this could be Hezbollah. The Shia group, which is spearheading the opposition to the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, had announced that yesterday would be the beginning of Phase III in the their effort to bring down the government, but I didn’t think that meant a city aflame. Since setting up camp in downtown Beirut (Phase I) and protesting at various government ministries (Phase II) had little affect on the government, most Lebanese yawned at the announcement of a country-wide strike as its “escalation.” But the Hezbollah coalition is not ready to back down without a fight.
The smoke rising from Beirut–and the entire country–is from the flaming barricades erected by the opposition in an effort to shut down the country. Bussed in from Hezbollah strongholds in the south, commandos have fanned out across Lebanon to man blockades at crucial intersections. Working since the crack of dawn, they seem to have done a good job. By the time I get out of my apartment at 9 a.m., the only person I see on the street is a bedraggled-looking opposition supporter in designer jeans and a dirty undershirt who leers at me and says, “Welcome to hell.”
My first stop is Sodeco Square, situated a few blocks from my apartment in the upscale Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh. Black-clad Hezbollah supporters have overtaken the intersection–spraying gasoline on flaming heaps of scrap-wood, cigarette cartons, and overturned dumpsters–while a Hezbollah-manned tractor augments the roadblocks with mounds of dirt and trash from a nearby lot. Many of them have never been to Beirut before–a city they consider the playground of the rich and corrupt. So, to many of them, trashing the city seems to be an end unto itself.
“When Siniora doesn’t hear the voice of his people, the people have to attack him,” Abdul Karim Sulh, a Hezbollah activist, tells me as he takes a break from stacking tires. “He is corrupt, and we will destroy everything in our path to destroy his government.”
“We’re also trying to stop American hegemony of Lebanon,” pipes in fellow Hezbollah member Mohammad. “We are so happy when American soldiers are killed in Iraq because they are the ones responsible for our deaths here,” he says, referring to the tacit American endorsement of Israel’s attacks this summer. Mohammad fears that “America is trying to get the Sunnis out of Iraq and the Shia out of Lebanon” in order to create a balance of power in the region–a fear that receives nods of approval from the Hezbollah mob that has gathered around us.
As I try to break free from the crowd, one of the Hezbollah members grabs my arm. “You from America?” he asks in labored English. When I say yes, from Los Angeles, he whispers: “You like the Lakers? I hate America, but I love Kobe Bryant.”
I cross from Ashrafiyeh into downtown Beirut via the city’s main highway, which is usually gridlocked with traffic; today, it is eerily empty–occupied only by scattered Hezbollah members wielding metal pipes to scare away potential violators of the lockdown. The tunnel leading to the airport road has been filled with flaming debris, while opposition members drop doors and couches onto the highway from an abandoned apartment above. Overlooking the pandemonium is a billboard advertising Paris III, an international donor conference organized by the government to revive the economy after last summer’s war and set to be held this week in France. Pro-government forces have been criticizing the opposition for trying to undermine the conference by escalating their protests this week. The criticism falls on deaf ears, as the opposition claims that Paris III is itself on their long list of grievances. “The government takes money from you, and they give you bullshit,” says Hussein Nour Al Din, a Hezbollah supporter who came from the south to join in the protest. “We will not see any of the money from Paris III,” he says as he moves more tires onto the main highway.
But the closing of major traffic arteries hasn’t stopped Beirutis from their well-pampered lifestyles–a resiliency developed during decades of civil war and, more recently, bombardment by Israel. A middle-aged women in a track suit and headband jogs past me, wearing a facemask to ensure that the burnt-tire fumes don’t get in the way of her morning run. When Hezbollah shut down the airport road, travelers discarded their vehicles at the barricades and just rolled their suitcases down the highway. And Starbucks, of course, is overflowing with customers.
But Hezbollah’s opponents aren’t all taking this sitting down. In the predominantly Sunni suburb of Tariq Al Jadida, which is my next stop, residents were awoken by the busloads of opposition members that descended on their neighborhood. “Siniora told us to stay home, not to fight back, to keep the stability,” says Salah Sheikh, a government supporter from that neighborhood. “But we live here. This is our home. We have to defend ourselves.” The Sunnis I meet in this neighborhood remind me how much they have been itching for a chance to confront Hezbollah after its unilateral decision to ignite a war with Israel–not to mention their anger at Hezbollah for shutting down their favorite shopping area in downtown Beirut with weeks of sit-ins.
By the time I arrive, hundreds of pro-government demonstrators–primarily from Saad Hariri’s Future Bloc–have gathered on the street to defend their turf. Though initial confrontations were violent, including bouts of stone-throwing, the groups soon separated onto opposite sides of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. The Future supporters are now hoisting larger-than-life billboards of their leader and his father, the slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–followed by a massive poster of Saddam Hussein, a way to thumb their noses at their Shia adversaries across the street. After returning the sentiment by flipping the bird and grabbing their crotches, the Hezbollah side–joined by allies in the Amal party–erects banners of their own leaders and eruptes into chants of support for Syria and Iran.
The dramatic stand-off would be amusing if it weren’t so frightening, with both sides anxiously wielding batons and winding brass chains around their hands. When one hijab-clad woman yells at the Amal protesters from her balcony, the hoard begins pelting her with rocks. She frantically runs inside and returns seconds later waving a poster of Amal leader Nabih Berri–which seems to mollify the crowd. And, just to be sure, her daughter rushes onto the porch seconds later touting a yellow Hezbollah scarf, which elicits cheers from the crowds below.
Bystanders are wondering why the army is doing little to stop the opposition’s hostile behavior. “They are either failing in their duty or collaborating by protecting the demonstrators instead of opening the roads and protecting citizens,” Samir Geagea, leader of the pro-government Lebanese Forces, said to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. In both Sodeco and Tariq Al Jadida, soldiers mill around aimlessly while opposition activists block roads and destroy public property. “The army is just letting them play here,” says one government supporter as a he nurses a head wound from a rock-throwing opposition member. It’s not surprising that the army would sit on the sidelines of such a politicized battle–by some estimates, Shia make up almost 60 percent of the army. And, if the army can’t tame these protests on their home turf, there is little hope that they will be able to heed the international community’s call to disarm Hezbollah’s militias in the south anytime soon.
But maybe the army is just waiting for the opposition to run out of steam. As I begin to make my way home along the desolate Airport Road, apathetic soldiers are starting to sweep up the charred remains of Hezbollah’s roadblocks. But Hezbollah isn’t going quietly into the night. Minutes after a soldier extinguishes a flaming pile of tires, a fleet of mopeds appears with a fresh supply of rubber and wood for the fire; a Hezbollah leader, equipped with a walkie-talkie and an earpiece, arrives seconds later with a spreadsheet that coordinates responsibilities for the day’s activities. With the roadblock ablaze once again, the Hezbollah strike force is soon on the road to their next station.
The breakneck efficiency with which Hezbollah is coordinating these events–the scenes I saw in Beirut having been replicated across the country–does not bode well for a quick solution to this conflict. The opposition knows that, since their first two escalation efforts have fallen flat, this time it’s for keeps. The Hezbollah activists I encounter throughout the day–some of whom have come all the way from the Israeli border–are prepared to stay as long as it takes. “The resistance restores our honor and dignity,” says a Hezbollah activist that I meet on my way home. Hezbollah leader “Sayyid Hassan [Nasrallah] has said that we will have victory, so we will have victory.”
Zvika Krieger is a writer based in Beirut.
By David Schenker
January 24, 2007
On January 25, Lebanon will participate in Paris III, the third international donor conference for Lebanon convened by French president Jacques Chirac since February 2001. The top agenda items are grants and soft loans for Lebanon and the economic reform plan of Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora. For Siniora and his “March 14” ruling coalition, the success of the conference — i.e., international commitments to provide billions to Lebanon — is exceedingly important, as the government is coming under increasing pressure from the Hizballah-led opposition. Indeed, this week, the opposition upped the ante in its continuing effort to topple the Siniora government, closing key Lebanese arteries, including the highways into Beirut and the airport road. If Paris III is broadly perceived as “successful,” it will strengthen Siniora and demonstrate that the March 14 coalition can govern and advance key Lebanese interests without Hizballah participation in government. Should international donors not prove particularly generous, the momentum will shift toward the opposition.
Current Strife in Lebanon
For months, Hizballah and members of General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement had already been camped out in downtown Beirut near the Grand Serail, protesting against what they said was a lack of “power sharing.” Hizballah cabinet ministers had left the government in November 2006 to press their demand for additional cabinet seats in an effort to secure a “blocking third” and the ability to veto government initiatives. But the Siniora government did not give in and proceeded to push forward with its agenda, including its economic reform initiative, the cornerstone of which is Paris III.
Recent weeks have seen a number of demonstrations in Beirut. Concerned about the implications of these economic reforms, unions in Lebanon staged a series of sit-ins at government ministries, rallying against proposed reforms, which they said would be detrimental to their constituents. The demonstrations were not particularly well attended — less than 2,000 of 200,000 union members showed — but Hizballah and Aoun joined the cause, linking their efforts to topple Siniora and scuttle Paris III with the unions’.
On January 21, the opposition called for a national strike. When the initial response to the call proved tepid, strategy shifted from a voluntary to an opposition-enforced strike. In this context, on January 23 the opposition closed down several key roads throughout Lebanon (including in the north and en route to Damascus), stopping traffic into Beirut, obstructing the airport road, and effectively closing the airport. Although Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah counseled his followers in a January 22 speech, “We don’t want fighting and we don’t want bloodshed,” three protestors were killed and 50 wounded in clashes with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and accompanying sectarian violence. The “strike” was called off that evening.
The Paris Conferences
Despite the ongoing civil unrest, in Lebanon tomorrow all eyes will be on Paris. The quid pro quo of Paris is relatively simple. In exchange for what Siniora hopes will be an extremely generous package of grants and soft loans to Lebanon from the 40 international donors attending the conference, the government of Lebanon will commit to an economic reform program consisting of: (1) an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 10 to 12 percent; (2) a decrease in government subsidies on fuel, and (3) the privatization of electricity and telecommunications (mobile phone) sectors. The funds raised at the conference would be used to help defray some ongoing recurrent costs, and to service Lebanon’s estimated $41 billion in debt. In 2003, this crushing debt cost $3 billion a year in interest payments, equivalent to nearly 40 percent of Lebanon’s annual budget.
This will be the third in the series of conferences convened in Paris to assist Lebanon’s economy. At Paris I in February 2001, among other commitments, Lebanon pledged to stimulate the economy and modernize its tax system. In exchange, France provided Lebanon with 500 million euros to finance development projects. At Paris II in November 2002, the Lebanese government under then-prime minister Rafiq Hariri agreed to privatize key industries, pay down debt, cut recurrent expenditures, and increase tax revenues. In return, the international community pledged some $4.4 billion, of which Lebanon has to date received only $2.5 billion.
Notably, the United States did not contribute to Paris II because it wanted Lebanon to commit to a program similar to those of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which would have linked disbursements to reform. In retrospect, this was prescient: from 2002 to 2006, Beirut failed to deliver on its commitments to reform the economy. But the calculus for Paris III is different: many Arab and Western states are concerned about the Iranian and Syrian-backed opposition efforts to topple Siniora and will look to strengthen his March 14 forces via the conference. Unlike his predecessors, Siniora seems committed to remedying Lebanon’s economic woes via reform. Moreover, it is likely that Paris III will be underpinned by either an IMF or an IMF-monitored program. The U.S. commitment has not yet been announced, but State Department officials say it will be substantial.
Opposition to Paris III
The Hizballah-Aoun alliance and its sympathizers have couched their opposition to Paris III in terms of criticism of foreign influence in Lebanon and government corruption. During his January 22 speech televised on al-Manar, Nasrallah said Hizballah “supported Paris III . . . and any international help without political conditions . . . but the conditions of Paris III are not clear.” Nasrallah also accused the Siniora government of financial mismanagement: “You controlled the economic file [during the Syrian occupation] . . . and now we are headed toward bankruptcy.” Aoun has also focused on the same message of corruption and foreign influence. His website (www.tayyar.org) raised three primary objections to the conference: (1) there are “hidden conditions” on the assistance, (2) the aid will be given to Siniora and not to the Lebanese people, and (3) grants at Paris III would be tied to “a secret agreement to settle the [Sunni] Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” a move that threatens to skew the delicate sectarian balance of Lebanon.
Aoun’s conspiracy theories aside, the opposition has raised the stakes now to prevent a Siniora success in Paris III. After months of protests and sit-ins failed to shake the Siniora premiership, the opposition saw it necessary to exacerbate the crisis. As Suleiman Franjiyeh, an opposition leader closely tied to the Syrians, told al-Manar television earlier this week, “Our campaign will escalate day by day . . . As long as they won’t listen to us, we will not let them rest.”
Paris III is not without risks for the Siniora government. First, it is not clear whether donations will meet Lebanese expectations. In Lebanon, many are speculating that $6-$9 billion will be pledged, but government officials have tried to lower expectations, fearing that if donations fall short, the perceived failure will be exploited by the opposition. Indeed, conservative estimates are that pledges will be closer to $5 billion than $10 billion. Meanwhile, the current standoff between the opposition and the LAF in Lebanon has brought the state once again to the precipice of sectarian violence, raising tensions that will be difficult to defuse.
Conversely, if the Siniora administration walks away from Paris III with sufficient funds, it will return to Lebanon vindicated and strengthened, proving that it can effectively govern and pursue key initiatives without Hizballah and Aoun. At the same time, Hizballah and Aoun may emerge from this latest showdown with Siniora and the LAF diminished; not only could the opposition not prevent Paris III, but, in the process of trying, Hizballah closed down the Beirut airport. For the Lebanese, closure of the airport is something typically associated with Israeli airstrikes, not Hizballah. Likewise, the image of Shiite Hizballah holding Lebanon hostage may tarnish the militia’s reputation — enhanced by its performance in the summer war with Israel — in the Sunni Arab world.
Regardless of what happens in Paris, the March 14 forces will declare victory, and the opposition will claim conspiracies and secret deals. More important than what Siniora actually receives will be the perceptions of what was achieved, and his government’s renewed focus on moving forward with reform. In this environment, it will be incumbent on the Lebanese government to demonstrate, in Siniora’s words, that “this reform program is not for one Lebanese party. All the Lebanese will benefit from this reform program.”
David Schenker is a senior fellow in Arab politics at The Washington Institute.
Maariv, Jan. 5, 2007
Translated by the Information Department, Israeli Foreign Ministry, edited by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre.
Despite the fact that the Palestinians receive aid in amounts that other countries can only dream of, they are still pitied. Thus wretchedness has turned into an industry. Third article in the series
In the eyes of the international community, the Palestinians are the most wretched people in the world, the most oppressed people on earth. They are a national group personifying the image of the victim. An endless number of publications deal with the wretchedness, the poverty, the refugee status that has continued for decades. Here too, the link between the facts and publicity is less than fragile.
The first article in the series, “And the World Remains Silent,” which was published in the Rosh Hashana supplement, dealt with the mass murder that Arabs and primarily Moslems perpetrate against Moslems and Arabs, compared with the relatively minimal number of Arabs killed in general, and Palestinians in particular, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second article in the series, “And the World Lies,” which was published in the Yom Kippur supplement, dealt with the manipulation of the Palestinian refugee problem: even though almost 40 million people have undergone various population exchanges carried out to create states with national, ethnic or religious identities, of all the tens of millions, only the Palestinians have remained refugees.
This article examines the myth of Palestinian misery. The Palestinian situation is, in fact, bad. No one disputes that. The question is whether it is a self-inflicted condition for which the Palestinians are responsible, or an international plot, primarily American or Israeli.
The myth, which is cultivated by the “forces of progress,” says, as is well known, that the United States is the root of all evil. Not only does it have an “unbalanced policy,” it is also the oppressor of the Palestinian people and their legitimate aspirations. And Israel, of course, makes the economic oppression only that much worse. Is that really so?
The Palestinians have acquired a place of honor on the world’s list of the wretched and well-oiled public relations have turned them into a nation of victims. The facts are essentially different from the myths and mass frauds appearing in the deluge of academic and daily publications deceiving world opinion.
Misery pays. It has turned into an industry. The world opens its pockets. The “Great Satan,” the United States, the country most hated by the Palestinians, which vies for precedence only with Israel, the “Small Satan,” is the country that since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 has helped the Palestinians more than any other country in the world. Not Saudi Arabia, not the Gulf States, separately or together. Not the countries of Europe , which donate separately, and not even the European Union.
They have been showered with dollars and respond with criticism
These are the facts: according to a World Bank report, from 1994 to 1998 the United States was the Palestinians’ largest contributor. The figures are no different after 1998, but the 1990s, which ended with the Intifada, are particularly important. It is true that Israel receives more aid. Military aid is given for strategic reasons and this is not the place to discuss them. In any cast, most of it aids American industry, because Israel can only spend the money in America . With regard to economic aid, it has become marginal in recent years and it is less than that given to the Palestinians.
In all aspects of per capita aid for Palestinian development and well-being, they receive far more aid, for example, than Egypt . But the myth obstinately claims that the Palestinians are the “victims,” that they must be given more and more because perhaps, that will convince them to want peace and to abandon terrorism.
According to the World Bank report, during the aforementioned years, Washington contributed $344.73 million, while the European Union contributed $298.3 million. Japan is also at the top of the list, contributing $306.09 million. After them are Germany ($270.8 million), Norway ($221.38 million), Saudi Arabia ($133.15 million), the World Bank ($127.57 million), France ($52.71 million), Britain ($39.61 million), and Kuwait ($24 million).
The American contribution is actually much larger: during those years and the preceding decades, the United States was the largest contributor to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ). During that period the Agency’s annual budget was close to $300 million.
If the entire decade between 1994 and 2004 is calculated, the United States is still in first place, having provided $1.3 billion in aid. After the U.S. come the European Union, with $1.11 billion, and Japan , $0.5 3 billion. Here, too, the amounts do not include the contributions to UNRWA and the “ da’wah ” (“charity”), which were used in large part to fund terrorism. 2 It should be taken into account that Hamas operated an additional, separate fund raising mechanism, and some of the contributions were actually used for welfare, education, health and propaganda, while some went to strengthening its military wing and funding terrorist activities.
Billions have been given to the Palestinians, and the money could have made a tremendous change the Palestinian economy. It could, forgive the cliché, have turned Gaza into Beirut (except that Hezbollah would have turned Beirut into Gaza ). But the Palestinians chose a different path. The world rained dollars on them and they replied with criticism. They were not the oppressed of the world, but rather the pampered of the world. Most of the inhabitants of Africa , who suffer far more, can only dream of aid in the quantity given to the Palestinians. There is poverty in the world. There is exploitation. There is oppression. But the Palestinians are not at the top of the list. They are far from that. They have never starved. Their distress is mostly of their own devising.
They preferred struggle to prosperity
Even before the Oslo Accords, money flowed to the Palestinians. Nineteen ninety-two was a peak year for the Palestinian economy. The per capita GDP reached $1,999, and the actual per capita GNP was $2,683. The difference was supplemented by foreign sources: some funding came from the UNRWA budget, some was transferred from Palestinians working abroad, and a significant amount came from the many Palestinians working in Israel .
Theoretically, in the 1990s, if not for the terrorism which forced Israel to impose closures and curfews, the Palestinian economy would have led the Middle East, after Israel . That was when secret talks were being held in Oslo , and following the signing of the Accords, the great flow of international aid to the Palestinians began. But those were also years of great waves of terrorism. The Palestinians preferred struggle to prosperity.
During those years countries like Yemen , Chad and Nigeria had per capita GDPs of about $1,000, and they were not the poorest countries in the world. Those were the years when in Congo , Sudan and the Sahara millions of Africans became refugees and were abandoned to their fate by the international community. The black people of Africa did not create terrorism and did not present a strategic threat. The moral conscience of the world in general and of the West in particular is activated very selectively: by television, by threats of terrorism, by the threat of a rise in oil prices. Thus the greater suffering of tens of millions of black Africans is ranked much lower than the lesser suffering of the Palestinians.
The distress of the Palestinians is apparently their most successful industry. It is both self-perpetuating and the basis for more and more demands for payment. What is it for? Not for building infrastructures. Not for improving the educational system. Not for improving the lot of the hundreds of thousands who live in refugee camps. There were three main expenditures: perpetuating wretchedness and the political situation, purchasing weapons and explosives, and corruption: enormous amounts constantly funneled into the pockets of cronies and hangers-on, such as the millions that went into Yasser Arafat’s bank accounts around the world, and the cream the heads of the Palestinian Authority skimmed off the top of almost every economic development deal in the territories.
The supreme objective: wiping Israel off the map
Israel has made its own fair share of mistakes, but they are all dwarfed by the Palestinians. Living under an occupation is no great pleasure, and criticism of the occupation in general and of the settlements in particular, is legitimate. More than legitimate. It is not a question of theories, however, but with facts: huge sums of money given to the Palestinians went down the drain, and opportunities to win independence and prosperity were rejected in favor of the supreme objective: wiping Israel off the map.
The turning point was the Oslo Accords. The entire world volunteered to help the Palestinian Authority established following the Accords. The Palestinian Authority did, indeed, grow and flourish. Big money began to flow in. But the Palestinians themselves did not enjoy the fruits of peace. On the contrary, they went into an economic decline.
Various studies present contradictory data on the changes in the per capita GNP and the purchasing power of the Palestinians before and after the Oslo Accords. But even the contradictory data are consistent: on the one hand, there was an astonishing, unprecedented flow of funds into the Palestinian Authority, and on the other, there was a drop in per capita GNP. The explanation is simple: after the Oslo Accords there were several waves of terrorism which led to a series of closures. Fewer and fewer Palestinians worked in Israel .
But change came. Nineteen ninety-seven marked a turning point and the Palestinian economy began to recover. The Palestinians began to feel the benefits of peace. According to Palestinian data, from 1994 to 2000 there was a real increase of 36% in the GDP. And yet, despite the dramatic improvement, recovery was short-lived and ended with the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. Again, the chance for prosperity was destroyed. Again, the Palestinians chose violence.
The timing was important. The violence ( intifada ) broke out precisely after Israel made the Palestinians the most generous offers ever extended in the history of the conflict between the two nations. The myths of “Palestinian suffering” and of the “horrors of occupation” are inconsistent with reality.
Far from last place in suffering and poverty
First, the uprising began after two years of waning terrorism and the rise of economic prosperity. Second, those were days when the Palestinians had a Palestinian state almost in hand. It began at the Camp David summit, at which Ehud Barak, then Prime Minister, proposed something that no Israeli leader had dared to propose before him. It continued under the guidance of Bill Clinton and its essence was a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders, with the exception of minor border adjustments, including substantial parts of Jerusalem , and territorial exchanges in compensation for the Palestinians.
And how did the Palestinians respond? This is how Bandar bin Sultan, the highly influential Saudi ambassador in Washington at that time, described the events of that historic day, January 2, 2001: bin Sultan was sitting with Arafat at the Ritz Hotel before his meeting with Clinton . Bin Sultan told Arafat that it was a historic opportunity, that he had the support of Saudi Arabia , Egypt and most of the Arab world, and that if he refused the proposal “It would be a tragedy, it would be a crime.” It did no good. Arafat went to Clinton and said “No.” Arafat did not want a Palestinian state. Arafat did not want prosperity. Arafat did not want an end to the occupation. Arafat wanted war.
Israel was forced to respond to protect itself from the enormous wave of terrorism. Yes, Israel made mistakes. But all of its mistakes are dwarfed, to repeat, by Palestinian intransigence over ending the occupation and the conflict, and their refusal to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel .
To continue with the facts: funds for economic aid and human development and to prevent hunger are supposed to flow according to the condition of the needy community. Were the Palestinians the neediest community? Comparative data show that the Palestinians are far from last place on the poverty scale. While their GNP was not at Western levels, even among the Arab-Muslim countries the Palestinians are not the last on the list.
The Human Development Index for 2003 places the “occupied Palestinian territories,” as the Palestinian Authority is defined, in the 102 nd place out of 180 countries. Since 2003 represents the height of the intifada, one of the economic low points, and since the GNP during the 1990s was far higher, we can assume that during the 1990s the Palestinians were ranked closer to the top. In any case, even in the dire situation of 2003, the Palestinians were ahead of Algeria (ranked 103 rd ), Syria (106 th ), Egypt (116 th ), Morocco (126 th ), Yemen (156 th ) and certainly most of the countries in Africa and some in South America .
Both money and support for terrorism
The Palestinians are ranked high in human development relative to other Arab states, even though their GNP is lower. And yet, a comparison of GNP and international aide, relative to other countries and to the size of the population, yields an amazing result: the Palestinians received the greatest amount of aid in the world. Actually, for a decade and a half the Palestinians have been far from being the poorest, but they received the most aide. The facts tell the story:
From 1994 to 1998, the Palestinians in the territories received more than $2.6 billion in aid from donor countries, and another $600 million through UNRWA, but that is only part of the picture. An enormous number of Palestinian NGOs received support from many funds and foundations, primarily in Europe .
Additionally, “charitable organizations” sent money, mainly to bodies engaged in terrorism and/or religious activities. The money came from Muslims in America and Europe, from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States . The cumulative amount each year comes to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Comparative data for 2003 shows an even more surprising picture. While poverty-stricken Yemen received external aid of $30 per capita, each person in the Palestinian Authority received $470. Even in absolute terms, that is a distortion. Egypt received external $1.286 billion in aid while the Palestinian Authority received $1.616 billion in aid. (It is superfluous to mention that the population of Egypt is 73 million and the Palestinians population is only 3 million.)
That is not the end of the Palestinians’ shameless cynicism, which responds to American economic and political support with ingratitude. In 2003, following the terrorist bombings but for other reasons as well, Washington decided to make its aid to NGOs around the world conditional, on the signing of an agreement stipulating that the recipient did not support terrorism. That was American policy for every aid recipient all over the world, not just the Palestinians. However, some Palestinians were dissatisfied. They wanted both money and support for terrorism. An internal debate developed peppered with the expected nationalistic rhetoric. The radical elements prevailed, and at the beginning of June 2004 the Palestinian Legislative Council passed a resolution rejecting the American conditions.
The Palestinians wanted both aid and the option to give it to terrorists or to groups supporting terrorism. Why? Because Palestinian “national honor,” which includes support for terrorism, was more important than American aid.
Weapons are more important that welfare, education and prosperity
Three researchers – Michael Keating, Anne Le More and Robert Lowe – edited a comprehensive book of articles called The Case of Palestine : Aid, Diplomacy and Facts on the Ground , which was published in 2005. The three will never be accused of being overly sympathetic to Israel . However, two facts clearly emerge: first, that the Palestinians have received the greatest amount of aid since World War II, not just in absolute terms, but also taking into account adjustment for various indices. Actually, relative to their numbers, the Palestinians have received more aid than those covered by the Marshall Plan, which was designed for the recovery of Europe after the Second World War. Second, to quote the book, “Aid may have been part of the problem rather than the solution, and massive international aid has not prevented the decline of Palestinian society.”
As usual with books of this type, it is full of claims against Israel , for example that the aid contributed to perpetuating the occupation (how does that fit in with the Palestinian intransigence over refusing a Palestinian state and the Clinton initiative?). However, the objective data – provided by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and research institutes – tell the real story.
Throughout the Palestinian Authority-administered territories there are now tens of thousands of privately held weapons that are not associated with the Palestinian security forces. According to age and model, the price of a rifle ranges between thousands of shekels and thousands of dollars. When Palestinian distress is discussed, it is also worth remembering Palestinian priorities, both national and private: weapons are more important than welfare, education and prosperity. The problem is not money. The problem is that weapons are preferable.
If the Palestinians had fought the occupation they would have had an independent Palestinian state long ago, very close to the 1967 lines. But the Palestinians have made every effort to convince public opinion in Israel that their goal is not the end of the occupation, it was and for many remains end of the State of Israel. Fantasy has overcome reality.
Like the hot-house dream of the right of return, which has only increased the misery of those who have been forced to remain refugees, the dream of the destruction of Israel has only increased the wretchedness of the Palestinians. The blame is not theirs alone. It can also be attached to their propaganda agents in the West, who treated them like oppressed wretches and not like equal human beings who are responsible for their actions. There is no other explanation for the fact that since the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians in the territories alone have received $5.5 billion, if we do not take into account additional sources that are not mentioned in the official reports. This comes to about $1,300 per Palestinian. Just for the sake of comparison, under the Marshall Plan, every European received only $273 (after adjustment for the cost of living index).
There are many good reasons why the Palestinians deserve to receive that aid. However, it is now possible to see what happened to those vast amounts of money. It was spent on corruption and Fatah was removed from the government. Encouraged by the central government, it was spent on weapons and the result was social deterioration and anarchy. And above all, the blame belongs to those who helped this enormous amount of money flow in without weaning the Palestinians from their futile dreams of the destruction of Israel. The result is mainly the continued destruction of Palestinian society.
Ben-Dror Yemini is the editor of Ma’ariv’s Op-ed page.
1. A great deal of material on how the Palestinian terrorist organizations, particularly Hamas, funnel money into terrorism through their Da’wah “charitable societies” can be found at the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center Website, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/engsite/home/default.asp .