Development Aid to Palestine: Is it a tool, or does it make someone a tool?

July is all about development in the pita-consuming region. Please send your submissions to Nadia at 

First Post: Tech Crunch published “The Arab World Has Tech Talent To Sustain It Beyond The Clones” by Mehrunisa Qayyum, founder of PITAPOLICY and Huffington Post Blogger.   On that note, don’t forget to check out tech entrepreneurs survey!

Second Post: #MENAsocent: First DC-MENA Tweetup=#Success

Third Post: Prospects for Development After Elections

Fourth Post: Prospects for Development: An Exercise in Patience

Is development aid to Palestine a tool for improving the Palestinian economy?  Or does development aid for Palestine co-opt opportunities, thereby making the recipient a “tool” of apartheid like conditions?

By: Ramah Kudaimi

Two weeks ago the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a resolution encouraging “positive investment” in the Palestinian economy. By a close vote of 333-331, this resolution replaced one that had been approved in the Middle East and Peacemaking Issues Committee calling for divestment from three companies- Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions- that supply equipment to Israel to enforce its control over Palestinians. While the Presbyterians were very clear in their condemnation of the occupation- the same assembly passed a resolution calling for a boycott of all products produced in Israeli settlements- the failure to divest highlights a general flaw in the concept of how development contributes to the resolution of conflicts.

The argument for investment and development as a means to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis is not a new one. Thomas Friedman wrote in 2010 that the “The Real Palestinian Revolution” was based on building Palestinian capacity and institutions “on the theory that if the Palestinians can build a real economy, a professional security force, and an effective, transparent government bureaucracy, it will eventually become impossible for Israel to deny the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.” There was much chatter at the time about the many achievements of Salam Fayyad in building a state as members of the Quartet and various international donors noted that there were more than one thousand development projects taking place, including paving roads, planting trees, digging wells, and constructing new buildings. In July 2010 Fayyad boasted of a ten percent drop in unemployment in the West Bank, and Martin Indyk declared five months later that these efforts have made life in the West Bank “good,” citing an 11 percent economic growth and Palestinian police maintaining order. All the positive rhetoric around this economic growth made it seem like Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence in 2008 that an “economic peace” would help make a political solution more accessible had some merit.

But four years later, with Netanyahu now the Israeli prime minister, an end to the occupation is not any closer. Settlements continue to expand and an Israeli-government appointed commission recently declared that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is actually not occupation. About 85 percent of the apartheid wall, which Israel started constructing ten years ago, will be within the West Bank when it is completed, annexing 530 sq km of Palestinian land- the area of Chicago- and trapping 350,000 Palestinians between it and the Green Line. And the blockade on Gaza continues, keeping 1.4 million Palestinians entrapped in an open-air prison.

Not only is justice and equality for Palestinians further than ever before, a more in depth analysis of the development situation for Palestinians proves that without an end to Israeli military control, no amount of “positive investment” and international aid will keep Palestinians from suffering the harmful effects of occupation and apartheid. In summer 2010 Save the Children UK released a report that children living in the poorest parts of the West Bank faced significantly worse conditions than their counterparts in Gaza and that homes, schools, drainage systems, and roads were in urgent need of repair. According to Amnesty International, Israel denies Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources. Israel uses more than 80 percent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, while restricting Palestinian access to a mere 20 percent. Due to poverty between 500 and 1,000 Palestinian children work for Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley picking, cleaning, and packaging fruit and vegetables, which are illegally produced.

Between 2000 and 2009, more than $7.2 billion in international aid was provided for Palestinians. Also since 2000 Israel has repeatedly bombarded Palestinian public infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, infrastructure that was subsidized by the international community and then rebuilt by the same international community. During Operation Cast Lead, which was launched December 2008, Israel targeted the Palestinian parliament; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Labor, Housing and Construction, Finance, and Justice; the Gaza Central Prison; and virtually all police stations. Israel damaged or destroyed more than 11,000 Gazan homes, 1,500 of which were built by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Almost 700 factories and business were also hit, including a few belonging to the Abu ‘Ida Cement and Construction Company, which had carried out the building work for Gaza’s power station, a US-Palestinian joint venture. Total property damage to civilian infrastructure was estimated to be $1.6-$1.9 billion.
Aid has only served to normalize and entrench Israel’s occupation and system of apartheid. For example a report by the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem in 2010 revealed that 32 percent of the Palestinian Authority roads funded and built by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reflected priorities in a proposal Israel presented to donors in 2004. Israel wanted donors to fund 500 kilometers of alternative roads to serve the Palestinians whom it was blocking from the main settler road network it had illegally constructed. The donors rejected the proposal at that time, but the PA and USAID ended up implementing 22 percent of Israel’s plan anyways. Thus international money was used to fund the development of an apartheid transportation network in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The international aid meant to promote Palestinian development and contribute towards ending the current impasse is useless when there is no international political will to pressure Israel to end its occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians. Palestinians wouldn’t have to rely so much on international aid if the Israeli occupation didn’t limit their economic development in the first place. The Presbyterians decision to not divest from companies such as Caterpillar and instead invest in building Palestinian infrastructure that Israel can destroy using Caterpillar bulldozers should serve as a lesson to international development agencies on how they should operate within situations of conflict and war without serving the interests of those who have more power.

Note: Ramah Kudaimi is Membership and Outreach Coordinator at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Follow her @ramahkudaimi.

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Filed under Analysis, Interests, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

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