Palestinians Need More Cash


Jul 7, 2005

This commentary originally appeared in International Herald Tribune on July 7, 2005.

President George W. Bush's pledge at his meeting in May with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to provide $50 million in direct support for the Palestinian Authority is symbolically important, but needs to be 100 times larger to have a real impact.

The Palestinians need at least $5 billion as soon as possible from the United States and other nations, mostly for use in the Gaza territory that Israel plans to evacuate later this year. Without such a major infusion of cash — directed toward making Gaza an economic, social, and political success — Israel's withdrawal risks becoming yet another failed attempt at peace, or even the prelude to more violence.

The world is inured to seeing Palestinian refugees packed tightly into camps in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, which for all practical purposes is one large refugee camp. These camps could have been closed decades ago if Arab nations had absorbed some of their residents and provided economic support to others. But oil-producing Arab states used the Palestinian plight to illustrate what they argued was Israeli heartlessness and Western double standards. Palestinian leaders like the late Yasser Arafat used the camps to cultivate a psychology of victimhood.

Israeli extremists used the camps' existence to back up their claim that Palestinians could not possibly govern themselves. And the ultimate irony came in 1979 when Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan of Israel secretly offered to give Gaza back to Egypt. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt uttered a crisp “no thanks.”

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now plans to vacate Gaza, taking with him the Israeli settlements, as a contribution to the road map sponsored by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. But unless Gaza succeeds, the vacuum will be filled by Hamas or other groups that realize providing social services, jobs and hope are the way to power among the oppressed.

There will surely be more violence, from within and without, if a failed Gaza becomes a stomping ground for terrorists. Israel will be unable to compromise on other aspects of the road map and may have to intervene to stop violence emanating from Gaza. Arab states will rail against Israel and the United States, and jihadists will cite the Gaza failure as yet another reason to sign up for the “alternative politics” of war.

Economic aid and investment is no panacea. But without providing decent housing, schools, health facilities, sanitation and jobs, nothing else is possible. No security, no peace, no other steps toward resolving conflict, no hope and promise for Palestinians, Israelis and anyone else with a stake in the region, including the United States.

The total pledge by the outside world for Gaza is $1.2 billion. The Bush administration asked Congress for $200 million. Congress cut this to $150 million and required that these funds go through intermediaries rather than directly to the Palestinian Authority. Hence, the symbolic importance of Bush's offer of $50 million in direct assistance.

These U.S. pledges for the Palestinian Authority, only part of which would be used in Gaza, are virtually “chump change,” as an American might say. Even the full $1.2 billion, a mirage at the moment, is far from enough to show the people of Gaza — and through them all Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims — that the West is serious in working to end the seemingly endless conflict.

At the Munich Conference on International Security last February, a proposal was made to raise $6 billion for Gaza's success: $2 billion from the United States, $2 billion from the European Union and $2 billion from the Arab oil-producing states. This is more than pocket change, but a pittance compared to the mammoth amounts being spent on securing and transforming the rest of the Middle East, where in Iraq alone America has spent about $200 billion.

In response to the $6 billion proposal in Munich, Javier Solana, foreign policy chief of the European Union, immediately responded that the Europeans were ready to put up their $2 billion.

Of course, this is not a formal EU commitment. And America and the Arab states would have to respond with as much alacrity. But with foresight, political courage, U.S. leadership, and a desire both to help Gaza succeed and to validate the courage of Ariel Sharon this should be a no brainer.

Robert E. Hunter was U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998 and is a senior advisor at RAND Corp.

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