Decision to Cut Aid to Palestinian Authority Criticized

4-28-06, 9:10 am

The recent decisions by the US and the European Union (EU) to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the January 2006 elections that gave Hamas a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council was strongly criticized this past week by the human rights organization Amnesty International.

In addition to aid cuts from the US and the EU, Israel has stopped turning over to the Palestinian Authority funds it collects as customs taxes on Palestinian goods. Israel, according to a UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) report released earlier this month, says it will use the money to reimburse Israeli-based companies that own water and electrical facilities in Palestinian-held territory.

Amnesty argued that the US and the EU have a responsibility under international law to provide aid and to protect the Palestinian populations in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

Such funding directly provides for health care, education and 'most other key services to the Palestinian population.' Amnesty further added that provision of this funding constitutes crucial humanitarian aid 'in light of Israel's failure to do so,' despite the fact that under international law it is legally obligated as the occupying power to provide such assistance. International law governing the role of occupiers was also reiterated recently by the International Committee of the Red Cross director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl. In a public statement earlier this month, Krähenbühl stated, 'Israel, as an occupying power, has obligations to ensure the well-being of the population in the occupied Palestinian territories.' He also echoed Amnesty's assertion that 'the decision to withhold funds and assistance from the newly elected Palestinian authority could produce further deterioration of the situation for the population and a broader humanitarian emergency.'

Krähenbühl acknowledged statements by the Israeli government that it wants to avoid a humanitarian crisis, but also pointed out that such a crisis is already developing. International estimates indicate that unemployment is projected to rise to close to 40% this year, while the gross domestic product is expected to collapse by an annual rate of between 25% and 49%, in contrast to positive 5% growth in 2005.

Krähenbühl also pointed to a breakdown in the ability of the Palestinian Authority to provide minimal services the population needed to live a normal life, due in no small part to intensified restrictions placed on it by the occupying forces. These restrictions, Krähenbühl said, include 'observation posts, road blocks, checkpoints, the West Bank barrier and other physical obstacles.'

Such restrictions, he added, prevent people from accessing schools and hospitals and severely limit economic activity, such as moving goods to markets or finding and holding employment.

The frequent closing of checkpoints in Gaza and the continued construction of the West Bank wall have resulted in the expropriation of Palestinian-controlled land, severe shortages in staple commodities, and resulting high inflation. These conditions created by the Israeli occupation forces stand in direct violation of the Israeli government’s stated obligations under international law, the Red Cross official also stated.

The UNOCHA echoed the ICRC and Amnesty claims in a recent position paper published in early. The UN organization reasserted Israel's responsibility to provide for the welfare of the population in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

UNOCHA also emphasized that despite the important role of international humanitarian organizations in assisting the Palestinian people, they could never adequately cover the lost aid withdrawn by the US or the EU, which, in addition to provision of basic services, pays the salaries of health care workers, teachers, and police. In all, 152,000 Palestinians and 940,000 of their dependents rely on employment by the Palestinian Authority, reports UNOCHA.

Withdrawal of these funds will further increase the already high rate of unemployment, devastate basic services, and impose severe limitations on the ability of the Palestinian Authority to provide security, according to the UNOCHA document.

Though the Bush administration and EU officials claim that the aid cutoff is aimed at punishing Hamas for its policies, these measures will only further harm the already harshly treated populace, is an attempt to overturn a fair election, and legitimizes Israel’s abrogation of its responsibilities as an occupying power.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at