The United States is entirely correct to dock Palestinian aid
As Mahmoud Abbas grandstands on the international stage, his people suffer due to his reckless, self-serving actions.
It was reported on Saturday morning that the US Congress will refuse to sanction aid commitments of $200m to the Palestinian territories following Mahmoud Abbas’ unilateralist bid for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.
The humanitarian implications of cutting aid are of course palpable and cause for concern. When considering this alongside the inevitable frustrations and remonstrations of the Palestinian people – potential for a third Intifada might be foreseen.
But the United States and their partners in the Quartet must work hard to ensure that the message is clear: if you attempt to circumvent peace negotiations, you can and should no longer benefit from the aid tied to such deals. It will take a serious effort to be certain that the Palestinian people know that is it their leadership who sold them up the river on this one.
While the freeze in aid has taken place much to the chagrin of the Obama administration, it can be argued that Congress is tearing apart the realist chapter of chequebook diplomacy which argues that even if negotiations are completely ignored by one side, the geopolitical implications of withdrawing aid still argue for caution.
The Palestinian territories have a labour force of nearly one million people. When one-fifth of these jobs are in the public sector, subsidised almost entirely by foreign aid (in fact over 30% of their GDP is foreign aid), it is evident to most where friction will occur.
The PA is already behind in terms of its payments to public sector workers – this aid freeze will further add to the wage bill, causing mass discontent amongst those paid by the state.
The Palestinian people should however be asking why Mahmoud Abbas and his team were so eager to play fast and loose with their livelihoods, knowing full well that the US Congress is, in Bill Clinton’s words, “the most pro-Israel parliamentary body in the world.”
On June 28th of this year, the US Senate passed resolution 185, affirming the commitment to a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, insisting that a unilateral statehood bid “demonstrates absence of a good faith commitment to peace negotiations, and will have implications for continued United States aid.”
Abbas and his ministers therefore cannot even insist that punitive measures have been taken without warning. His grandstanding on the international stage last month has, literally, cost his people dearly.
There is however the argument against foreign aid in itself. Some may argue that the Palestinian territories being weaned off the US and European taxpayer is a good thing.
The neo-Keynesian argument about spending American or European tax dollars (or euros) to shore up a Palestinian economy is as flawed as the argument for domestic quantitative easing. Aid can temporarily stave off mass unemployment and civil unrest, but the effects are artificial and almost impossible to sustain.
With regard to the Palestinian approach to Israel, it is both naïve and short sighted to think that we can coax a population away from its implacable hostility to Jews and the state of Israel with cold hard cash.
For the United States to continue funding the Palestinian territories, aid must be tied to political focuses – the eradication of incitement amongst the Palestinian youth, a commitment to the Oslo Accords, the outright and vocal recognition of the continued security of the state of Israel, and a renewed effort to pursue democracy.
Yes there are serious humanitarian concerns and Israel must play its part in negotiations. The complications of having 150,000 Palestinian workers being unemployed, despondent and in search of a scapegoat is more than troubling for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Force generals – but that doesn’t excuse Abbas’s reckless, self-serving actions.
For the United States to send a strong message about what it expects politically from aid recipients the world over, be it Pakistan or Palestine, Israel or Ethiopia, it must not hesitate to take action if terms are broken.
In the coming days and weeks we can expect skirmishes and demonstrations along Israel’s border. If this escalates into a more serious and long-lasting conflict, it will once again be the fault of the Palestinian leadership.
On September 23rd Mahmoud Abbas claimed that his statehood bid was the beginning of the ‘Palestinian Spring’.
Unfortunately that same Friday marked the beginning of the Northern Hemisphere’s autumnal equinox – a sign that spring and summer are over and that winter is just around the corner.
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