Sari Nusseibeh, former Palestinian Authority representative in Jerusalem , and now president of Al-Quds University , said he urged British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a meeting on Sunday to “think very seriously about stopping aid to the Palestinians.”
The suggestion, aimed to shock but nonetheless apparently quite serious, ran at counter-purposes to Brown’s visit to the region, which was aimed in part at promoting an “economic road map” to help improve conditions for the Palestinian people living under occupation as a kind of political incentive.
Nusseibeh told a group of journalists at a briefing in Jerusalem on Monday that he spoke during a meeting organized the day before by the British Consulate to introduce a few Jerusalem Palestinians to Brown during the British Prime Minister’s visit to the region.
The British Prime Minister seemed surprised and taken aback by his suggestion. So, Nusseibeh said, he was now bringing his proposal to the media.
“My suggestion is to stop this (the European aid),” Nusseibeh said. “The money being donated is just being wasted,” he said, “it is just sustaining the occupation.”
Nusseibeh explained that “The Israelis are happy because they do not have to pay the cost of the occupation. The Europeans are happy because they feel they are doing their part by providing economic assistance … and the Palestinians are happy because we have jobs and we feel free.”
But, Nusseibeh said, ” Israel cannot have its cake and eat it, too … Israel cannot continue occupying us and having European Union funds and American dollars.”
Nusseibeh’s remarks echo sentiments expressed privately, and somewhat differently, over at least the past four years by major NGOs and international organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territory, who complain that what they build with donated funding is many times destroyed in Israeli military and security operations. Then, these humanitarian workers say, the international donors barely make a public protest before simply paying to rebuild again.
Nusseibeh also noted that international aid has also contributed to the perception among Palestinians of corruption. “There have been many studies about this happening in Africa and in Asia , and it has happened here, too,” Nusseibeh said. He said that international aid is actually very dangerous and destabilizing, if not handled extremely carefully.
The large-scale international aid pledged over the years, and most recently at a post-Annapolis Conference donor meeting in Paris last December, was intended to help create an independent Palestinian state, Nusseibeh said, but now this does not appear to be on the near horizon.
At the very least, Nusseibeh said, the EU should now make continuation of its aid conditional on Israeli seriousness about negotiating peace terms to end the occupation.
Nusseibeh also told the journalists that he believes that what should happen now is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should just go into a room, without their lawyers and advisors, and sign an agreement – any agreement.
“The piece of paper I signed with Ami Ayalon would be one possibility,” Nusseibeh suggested, referring to the 2002 proposal that he and Ayalon developed in 2002. “Nobody ever created an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that got as many signatures”, Nusseibeh added.
Both leaders do have the power to make an agreement, despite their present weakened circumstances, Nusseibeh said. Then, Nusseibeh said, they can come out and tell their people that they believe it in the best interest of their peoples, and try to convince their respective communities. He added that if Abbas were to do so, he would probably be easily re-elected.
Otherwise, Nusseibeh said, the possibility of a two-state solution is rapidly disappearing,
“and we should both be looking at a different kind of future”. There will soon be no other option, he said, but to work for some kind of coexistence “with the least pain” within one political entity. .
There are many reasons why the window of opportunity is closing, Nusseibeh said, and a good example is that “Jerusalem has to be shared, but there is an ongoing process to make Jerusalem Israeli unilaterally”. He said “there is a constant battle here over identity cards”, and added that the possibilities for Palestinian housing expansion are very restricted. .
Nusseibeh added that a two-state solution can be said to be of even greater interest to the Israelis than to the Palestinians because, he said, the Palestinians do not have a project at the moment, while Israel does – the Zionist project that propelled the creation of a Jewish state.
Under relentless Israeli pressure, Nusseibeh argued, the Palestinian enthusiasm for a national project in the present circumstances is simply no longer what it was ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. Palestinians are now “mostly wanting to struggle within the paradigm of South Africa, rather than Algeria”, Nusseibeh suggested.