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Commentary Last Updated: Dec 19th, 2007 - 00:46:26

Money cannot buy peace
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 19, 2007, 00:16

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Tony Blair was in the news this week due to his bit part in a Bush family seasonal "home video" starring the other famous pooch. Barney, and, more importantly, his chairing of yesterday's conference aimed at boosting the Palestinian economy held in Paris.

Thanks, in part, to the urgings of Blair and Israel's new sweetheart, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, more than 90 donor nations are expected to contribute more than $5 billion to keep the Palestinian National Authority's three-year development plan afloat.

Directors of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, David Makovsky, Simon Henderson and Michael Makovsk, have written a scathing critique of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which they accuse of being less than generous towards their Palestinian brethren over the past decade.

The article's neoconservative authors have naturally neglected to criticise Israel's role in keeping the Palestinians below the poverty line. They appear to have forgotten the $50 million a month in customs duties and tax that Israel withholds from its rightful beneficiary. They ignore the fact that residents of the West Bank are barred from working in Israel and Gaza is a virtually sealed economic wasteland without jobs, electricity or hope.

And they have overlooked Israel's systematic destruction of Gaza's infrastructure, including its airport, which was constructed using donor funding.

They have also omitted to mention the constraints heaped on banks asked to transfer monies to the Palestinian territories, which have resulted in government officials attempting to enter with suitcases of cash, or the cessation of direct Western aid designed to undermine support for Hamas.

Internal corruption

Crediting the region's alleged parsimony to a "you broke it, you fix it" attitude towards the West, they say they hope Saudi Arabia and the Gulf will be more financially forthcoming following the summit.

Let's be straight on this. GCC states are not responsible for the impoverishment of the Palestinians or the hardships they face in their daily lives, which derive from Israeli policies, supported directly or indirectly by the US and, in the past, were exacerbated by internal corruption. Isn't it time the finger was pointed where it belongs?

However, prior to the 1991 Gulf War, when the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sided with Saddam Hussain during the invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia along with Gulf states were together contributing as much as $6 million a month to the PLO. I can still recall the days when a percentage of Gulf postal revenue was automatically reserved for Palestine and Yasser Arafat would regularly tour the area to successfully drum up cash.

Despite hurt feelings, it wasn't long before this region resumed giving aid to the Palestinians in a spirit of forgiveness. For instance, in 2005 Saudi Arabia provided $ 15 million to UNESCO for Palestinian students and when the World Food Programme last year reported more and more children in Gaza were seen begging or rummaging in garbage bins for something to eat, Saudi Arabia responded with a donation of $2.6 million.

Last year, too, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pledged $97.5 million to the Palestinian National Authority to pay civil servants but funds were blocked by banks warned that they risked breaking US laws. Moreover, private donors and charities within this area have often been erroneously accused by the US of facilitating terrorist funding, which has deterred sincere giving.

In 2005, the UAE was praised by the Arab League for donating $100 million towards a housing compound in Gaza and this year transferred $80 million to an account controlled by the PLO, which does not contravene US anti-terror regulations. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also sent substantial amounts to the same account. Yet according to Messrs Makovsky, Makovsky and Henderson apart from Saudi Arabia the Gulf States have contributed hardly anything at all.

It's clear that the article, "Aid to the Palestinians: the role of Oil-rich Arab States," is nothing other than a red herring, written to deflect the reader from the real sources of Palestinian deprivation and suffering.

In any case, filling Palestinian coffers as admirable as that may be can only achieve so much. At the end of the day the Palestinians need to be self-sufficient. They are an educated, entrepreneurial, hardworking people who will flourish once they have a state and control over their own borders, seas and airspace.

Full-scale incursion

US President George W. Bush says it's feasible a Palestinian state will come to fruition late next year. If you still believe in the tooth fairy you'll be inclined to believe him. Last weekend, Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza and contemplates a full-scale incursion, while right on the heels of the Annapolis conference it announced the building of 300 homes for Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem.

It's about time Western governments and their think tanks turned a spotlight on the true culprit. Israel is the cause of Palestinian hardship and the greatest single obstacle to a Palestinian state and regional peace. Any other interpretation is naught but a cynical exercise in smoke and mirrors. Washington Institute take note! We're on to you.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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