Danger ahead

It doesn’t take the UN to say it, but the UN Special Coordinator on the Middle East, Robert Serry, today told the UN Security Council that “The events of the past month demonstrate a dangerous combination of no political progress, instability and violence on the ground, especially in Gaza, and an increasingly precarious situation for the Palestinian Authority [PA] … The very viability of the Palestinian Authority is at stake, and ensuring its sustainability remains a fundamental priority”.


That has come to mean throwing money at it.

Twice a year, major Donors who keep the PA afloat meet to discuss the financial situation — and the spring meeting was held in Brussels this year, on 21 March.

Serry told the UNSC today that, in that meeting, “the primary concern of all AHLC members was the dire financial situation of the Palestinian Authority”.

Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz, just ahead of the meeting, that the between-the-lines significance of the report presented by Israel was: the Palestinians are not ready to have a state. A very self-serving message indeed. He wrote that:

    “Parts of the report are worded in a way that aims to make clear that the Palestinian economy is unable to support an independent state … ‘While the present fiscal crisis was caused by a shortfall in donor aid, there were also deviations in the execution of 2011’s budget’, the report said. ‘The public finance management system’s role in the current crisis may undermine its track record as a system that meets the requirements of a well-functioning state’. The report also indicated that the PA’s fiscal management contributed to the current crisis. ‘This demonstrates the need for further reform in order for the PA to meet the standards of a well-functioning state … The fiscal crisis is especially acute because much of the West Bank economy still depends on the public sector and on construction projects, both still heavily financed by foreign aid. It also serves as an alarming warning sign for the stability of the Palestinian economy … The current fiscal situation raises doubts about whether the PA will be able to reduce its dependency on foreign aid in the coming years’.”

Barak Ravid’s article, based on an insider briefing, is posted here.

Amira Hass took the Israeli report apart, in another article entitled Ignoring Israel’s complete domination, published in Haaretz here:

    “Who better than these delegates [the Donors, at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels last week] knows the great service the family of nations is doing to Israel by providing massive, ongoing aid to the Palestinians? Taxpayers around the world are the ones who are relieving Israel of its obligations as an occupying power and repairing the damage it is causing. It turns out it’s easier for the family of nations to fund the occupation than to force Israel to put an end to it. The guys in our finance and defense ministries – upon whose data the report is based – state, in fact, that the donor countries should get their checkbooks ready, because our policy this year won’t be different.

    With smug arrogance, the report’s authors ignore Israel’s complete domination over the resources essential to economic progress and expansion: land, water, time, a Palestinian population registry, currency, territorial expanse, air space, radio-frequency spectrums, territorial contiguity, banking services and television broadcasts, freedom of movement, border crossings, foreign nationals who are allowed entry and the duration of their stay, highways, and personal and communal security.

    With all the precision of a shopkeeper, the drafters of the report recount all of the measures that Israel, in its great magnanimity, has taken ‘to support economic growth in the West Bank’. But beyond all the means of support detailed in the report, there are the unmentioned hours wasted by Palestinian, American and European bureaucrats seeking to convince their Israeli counterparts to put them into practice

    The number of tourists coming to the West Bank city of Bethlehem last year, for example, was 1,174,280 (compared to 1,092,811 – note the precision! – in 2010), according to the report. Then there was the extension of the hours of operation at checkpoints; the agreement over the Palestinian police presence in Area B (which is under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil responsibility); construction of a visitors’ lounge for meetings between Palestinian and Israeli business people at one of the checkpoints; the drilling of four wells in a nature reserve’s eastern aquifer; 17 (again, note the precision!) preparatory meetings (regarding water infrastructure) with representatives of the U.S. State Department and USAID; one meeting with a Dutch representative over Israeli-Palestinian cooperation; 434,382 cars, owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel, that were allowed passage via the West Bank town of Jenin; consideration of a Palestinian request for a customs exemption for cars owned by foreign investors and the disabled; and approval of 2,777 requests for changes of address on ID cards from Gaza to the West Bank (of 3,857 people who sought approval).

    With a whiff of the theories of economist Milton Friedman, the report sneers at the size of the Palestinian public sector. But if there is anything that assures Palestinian social stability – and in turn quiet and prosperity for Israel – it is the regular (if unreasonably low ) salaries paid to that public sector. Since the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO were drafted in the 1990s, payment of wages has been a major means by which support of and dependence on the PA leadership has been buttressed. The adaptability of the Palestinian leadership to Israel’s policy of carving out Palestinian territorial enclaves was based in part on that very internal instability“…

Donor Opium: making an argument that needs hearing

Here is an interesting film critical of the role that donor funding has played in making and keeping Palestinians aid-dependent in the occupied West Bank, Donor Opium:

It was produced by Palestinians in the West Bank with funding from the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation [named after a committed 19th Marxist who starved CORR: see above, here was clubbed and shot to death ].

And, it contains insightful analysis by Palestinian critics of the current situation that does not usually make its way into the mainstream media:
Linda Tabar – Bir Zeit University Center for Development Studies
Iyad ar-Riyahi – Bisan Center for Research and Development
Khaled Nakhleh – Development Expert
Khaled Sabawi – Palestinian entrepreneur
Sani Abdel-Shafei – Business consultant in Gaza

Among the interesting facts: some $9 billion dollars in donor aid has flowed, if not flooded, into the occupied Palestinian territory [West Bank + Gaza] since the start of the Oslo process in late 1993, yet 30% of Palestinians are still classified as poor, and half of them are classified as very poor.

Since the arrival of Salam Fayyad as PA Finance Minister [and also Prime Minister since 2007],
Palestinians in Ramallah alone have signed up for credit that puts them $3 billion in debt

Some 30% of the Palestinian GDP comes from foreign/donor aid.

And, some 20% of the Palestinian budget is spent on security…

UPDATE: More on the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation work in Palestine, from the organization’s website, here:

    “For almost 20 years, the international community has been declaring to work towards “the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state alongside Israel”. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of projects implemented and civil society initiatives supported. Yet, there is no state, but an artificially fragmented society in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in A-, B-, and C-Zones, and beyond. There is a lot of talk about ‘development’, but actual research points to the fact that the Palestinians have been de-developed with the help of international aid

Continue reading Donor Opium: making an argument that needs hearing

World Bank says Palestine will continue to rely on donor aid unless Israel eases up

“Donor countries will have to keep giving large amounts of aid to the Palestinian government in the foreseeable future, unless Israel eases access of Palestinian goods to Israeli and world markets, the World Bank said in a report Friday”, according to a story published by Israel’s YNet on Friday. YNEt added that “The warning came ahead of a meeting of representatives of donor countries next week in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The donors are to review their aid scheme, which is based on the assumption that injecting large funds into the Palestinian territories will boost the economy and make the Palestinians gradually less dependent on aid. Donor countries have given billions of dollars to the Palestinians since 1993, in an attempt to prop up an economy battered by conflict with Israel and severe Israeli restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement … [T]he West Bank and Gaza, on either side of Israel, remain cut off from each other. Palestinian exports from the West Bank are hampered by slow movement of goods through Israeli-controlled crossings into Israel or Jordan. The Abbas government is still short of money, the bank said, citing a $400 million financing gap for this year. The government’s net revenues were more than 15 percent below target in the first half of 2009, the report said”. The YNet story can be read in full here.

UNAIDS to admit it overstated cases …

… now when will the UN admit that the Millennium Development Goals (MDG, for short) are also the Emperor’s New Clothes, and utterly unverifiable either when they were stated at the millennium in 2000, or when they are supposed to be achieved, in 2015? How could the UN know how many people worldwide live on one dollar per day? And how will the UN know if and when this number is cut in half? Of course it is worth trying to improve peoples’ lives around the plane — but it is ridiculous to mount a big public information campaign based on such evangelical and unknowable nonsense. And it will be worse if the UN just tries to claim victory in a few years’ time.

The NY Times is reporting today that “The United Nations’ AIDS-fighting agency plans to issue a report today acknowledging that it overestimated the size of the epidemic and that new infections with the deadly virus have been dropping each year since they peaked in the late 1990s. The agency, UNAIDS, will lower the number of people it believes are infected worldwide, to 33.2 million from the 39.5 million it estimated late last year”. [Of course, that’s still a lot — but it’s also still just an estimate…]

The NYTimes article says that “The statistical changes reflect more accurate surveys, particularly in India and some populous African countries. Some epidemiologists have criticized for years the way estimates were made, and new surveys of thousands of households in several countries have borne them out. In only a few countries, such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, do the figures reflect widespread behavioral changes, such as decisions by many people to have sex with fewer partners. Excerpts from the report were given to the news media in advance for release this evening, but an embargo on it was broken by other news organizations. Despite the revised estimates, the epidemic remains one of the great scourges of mankind”

The NYTimes reports that “Although new infections have dropped, the number of people with the disease is growing because more people infected with H.I.V. are living longer, thanks to antiretroviral drugs. With the world’s population growing, the agency believes that the percentage of adults who re now infected remains roughly constant, at about 0.8 percent. ‘This is not a surprise’, said Daniel Halperin, an expert on H.I.V. infection rates at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of an article published three years ago arguing that estimates of infection rates were too high. [At least, it’s not a surprise to him.] ‘The writing was on the wall years ago’, he said. ‘But’, he added, ‘this doesn’t mean the epidemic is going away, everything is fine and now forget about it — not at all. There are still about 10 countries in southern Africa that are real nightmares’.”

But — as with most UN campaigns — the real aim was to get the donors to respond, and this is the fear now, the NYTimes reports: “In the past, global health officials have treated the epidemic as a cyclone spiraling ever upward with no end to new infections in sight. But better surveys, particularly a household survey in India, have driven the figures down. Until recently, most national estimates were made by giving anonymous blood tests to some young women who came into public health clinics because they were pregnant or feared they had a sexually transmitted disease; those results were expanded with statistical models. But epidemiologists have realized that such a method — usually applied in big urban clinics because it was more efficient — oversampled prostitutes, drug abusers and people with multiple partners, and ignored rural women. Then the statistical extrapolations exaggerated those errors … AIDS advocates fear that any suggestion that the epidemic is lessening in intensity will cause fatigued donors to contribute less. In September, for example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis received pledges of only $9.7 billion, well short of the $15 billion to $18 billion it had hoped to raise…”

The NYTimes article reporting that UNAIDS is about to revise its figures is here

In this giving season, UN launches largest-ever appeal for Palestinian aid

As holiday shoppers crowd the stores, and Geneva familes order their foie gras and oysters and lobsters for the fetes (holidays), the United Nations is asking us not to forget the needy in Palestine.

“Two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are now living in poverty”, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Kevin Kennedy said, noting that children make up about half of the population of some 4 million, according to the UN Department for Public Information (DPI).

UN’s DPI is reporting that “The United Nations and its partners today launched their largest ever appeal for emergency aid to the occupied Palestinian territory — more than $453 million to help address a rapidly deteriorating situation after donors cut off funds to the Government when Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, won elections earlier this year. The rapid deterioration is linked with the fiscal crisis facing the Palestinian Authority that has been unable to pay its 160,000 staff, who support another 1 million family members. In addition, Palestinians are subject to increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement through Israeli security measures, limiting their access to jobs, markets, health services and schools. After Hamas, which is dedicated Israel’s destruction, won elections in January, Israel stopped handing over tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and international donors suspended direct aid, calling on Hamas to commit to non-violence, recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The UN News Centre story is here. =

The UN emergency Appeal was made by twelve UN agencies together with 14 NGOs operating in the occupied Palestinian territory. For more information please contact: Chris Gunness, UNSCO, 054-5-627-825, Allegra Pacheco OCHA â 0545-627-848, Juliette Touma, 054-81-555-46, Judith Harel, 054-6600-582; Johan Eriksson, UNRWA, 054-240-2632.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also appealed from Geneva today for some one billion Swiss francs (nearly one billion US dollars) to “meet humanitarian challenges in 2007”.

While Palestine will be the third most absorptive location for UN assistance, after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it will come in second in the ICRC list of operational priorities — also after Sudan, but before Iraq.

The ICRC is earmarking some 71 million swiss francs (nearly $70 million dollars), for what it calls “Israel, the Occupied and Autonomous Palestinian Territories”.

However, the ICRC was careful, in launching its appeal on Thursday, to distinguish its approach from that of, say, the United Nations:

“Combining political, military, social and humanitarian objectives and activities within an overall crisis response is an ongoing trend and has become an inherent feature of many contexts today. Most often it takes the form of integrated or multidisciplinary UN missions or State-run stabilization campaigns. The ICRC has made it clear that it cannot be part of such an integrated approach, although it has reaffirmed that it will continue to coordinate its activities proactively with all humanitarian actors concerned. The reason for this stance is that the ICRC has a responsibility to act in all situations of armed conflict and violence. Such situations are by definition highly sensitive, and to fulfil its role, the ICRC needs to build acceptance by and seek dialogue with all actors influencing or directly involved in a given conflict. While other actors have complex mandates and diverse agendas, which may include political and constitutional reform, social change and economic transformation, the ICRC works with the actors and realities as they are on the ground. The ICRC in particular insists on dialogue with all parties to armed conflicts in order to reach and improve the lives of those most in need. To be able to do this, the ICRC must be — and must be seen to be — neutral and independent. Neutrality must be understood here as a deliberate decision not to take sides in a conflict and to keep its action distinct from the political or military agenda of any one actor. By the same token, the ICRC will continue to attach importance to bilateral and confidential dialogue in the conduct of its operations.” The ICRC appeal — with its explanation of how the ICRC is guarding its neutrality — is here.

The problem with both these appeals, however, is that they essentially aim to rebuild or replace what earlier humanitarian donations have put into place, only to see smashed and destroyed in subsequent Israeli Defense Force operations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). While donors last year indicated that they were growing tired of underwriting Israel’s destructive rampages, the scale of the humanitarian and political crisis in the oPt is of such dimensions that the money-raisers are rushing back in to help lower the pressure.

The pity is that the Palestinian national movement has been reduced to an insistent demand to have salaries paid in the oPt. Of course, Palestinians need to live — something which is often given secondary importance and little consequence. But, still forgotten are the other half of the Palestinian people, who live in exile outside — including many still living precariously in refugee camps in surrounding “host countries”.

Of course, it is probably far less threating and much more palatable to have Palestinian leaders demanding the payment of salaries, instead of their rights, including an independent State.

It's easy to dupe donors

The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that the United Nations was among potential donors duped by a donor-savvy woman called “the Angel of Soweto”, who established a private school, the Ithuteng Trust, for pupils who, she told donors, were orphans. But, the paper says, the woman, who ran her school on a philosophy of “tough love”, is no angel, according to some of her former students.

The article, written by the LA Times’ Robyn Dixon, reports that “students called her Mama Jackey and sang gospel-style hymns in her praise. The 100% high school graduation rate that her private school claimed impressed many, including former President Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and the makers of a documentary scheduled to air on HBO beginning today.”

But, the article says, “Jackey Maarohanye and her school, the Ithuteng Trust, were plunged into a scandal after the students told the South African investigative television program ‘Carte Blanche’ that they are not orphans. They said Maarohanye scripted and rehearsed horror stories about how they had watched their parents die. Students, six of whom were contacted by The [Los Angeles] Times, repeated their allegations, saying she had coached them on how to sob for the television cameras or contributors to extract bigger donations. They told The Times that they recounted their false tragedies with tears and drama at the United Nations and for former President Clinton in 2001, on U.S. television and radio and for other visiting donors and media. Contacted by The LA] Times, she declined to answer questions on the allegations but said the program was malicious and unethical, and expressed anger that ‘Carte Blanche’ had contacted some of her donors for their reactions. The Ithuteng Trust board has since informed sponsors of the allegations and is setting up an independent investigation. Maarohanye ran an adult literacy program before approaching Mandela in 1999 for help in setting up an outreach program for children involved in crime. She recruited students from schools in Soweto, a township outside Johannesburg. Former students told The Times that the program was fun at first, and gave them life skills. But later they had to tell lies for media and sponsors. One Ithuteng patron, Judge Yvonne Mokgoro, argues that the program still has great value for children and says it’s important to distinguish its worth from Maarohanye’s alleged methods. The LA Times story is posted here.

The United Nations is not immune from the donor-duping syndrome. One of its worst manifestations is the numbers-generating done to generate media reporting of stores to attract donor interest.

UN Truth would like to know: How does UNAIDS know exactly how many people have died from AIDS (they give a figure of nearly 40 million persons worldwide)? How do they know even the approximate number of people who might be affected by HIV or AIDs? They rely on statistics provided by Governments — and, if Governments permit, they might do sample testing in some places of women who are admitted to hospital to give birth. The more victims and potential victims, the more press — and the more donations.

The World Health Programme proclaimed that they were on the verge of ending polio, through their vaccination campaigns, by the year 2000. It attracted a lot of media coverage, and donor funding. Then, the WHO said, they were aiming at a 2005 deadline. Now, maybe it will be 2007…

The main United Nations relies much less on donor funding, because the bulk of its budget is composed of its membership dues, called “assessments”, based on a fixed rate for each country according to its level of development and ability to pay. The U.S. pays the most – around 22 percent.

But, the UN’s Millennium Goals are one of the most egregious examples of fluffy nonsense. At a high-level meeting at UNHQ/NY in October 2000, UNSG Kofi Annan and his “strategic communication” honchos got world leaders to pledge to work to half poverty in the world (and other lofty goals) by the year 2015. They worry, now, that the target might not be achieved. But, how do they know the exact numbers of people around the world who were, in the year 2000, “living on less than a dollar a day”? And how will they know, exactly, whether or not half that number will be doing better in the year 2015?