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Social scientists being familiar with the Middle East and IR tend to agree with recipients’ views quoted in the last post. Most researchers are equally critical towards the EU (West in general) probably because it is very easy to recognize the gaps between rhetoric and practice. Rosemary Hollis argues that the ‘Arab revolts has actually demonstrated the failure of EU policies’ the extent to which, ‘EU has favoured regimes and practices that ultimately proved intolerable to a broad stratum of Arab society’ (Hollis 2012: 81). Evaluating US and EU ‘democracy promotion’ in the Middle East Rex Brynen and his co-authors agree that ‘by polishing some of the “rough edges” of authoritarism, they might have even contributed to its persistence (Brynen et al 2012: 274). Riccardo Alcaro writes in the Introduction of Rethinking Western Policies in Light of the Arab Spring that ‘United States and Europe have for decades shown acquiescence towards, and often actively supported, Arab authoritarian regimes in return for Western-friendly policies.’ In his evaluation Western response to the Arab Spring would ‘make a perfect case study for those interested in the conflict between perceived interests and values’ (Alcaro 2012: 13). Indeed, authoritarian regimes have likely been supported – irrespective of the events taking place under the umbrella of the ‘Arab Spring’ – to serve security interests: they were seen as guarantees of stability, but to some extent, even potential facilitators of peaceful transition to democracy. In Ahmed Driss’ view ‘the European Union favoured stability … over the requirements of democratization and (uncertain) political changes’ before the Arab Spring (Driss 2012: 100). However, even the ‘new’  EU ‘approach’ (see an earlier post on its main elements) reminds to an old wine in new bottle as formulated by Natalie Tocci and Silvia Colombo (Colombo and Tocci 2012: 96). To sum up these interpretations, the West in general and the EU in particular seems to be taken hostage by itself, at least the extent to which it is unable to bridge the gap between its extraterritorial (and domestic?) interests and internal (or universal?) values.

In light of the ‘new’ elements in EU (aid) policies, it is worthwhile to recall Palestinian views on international assistance, support, participation, influence and/or intervention (recorded in 2010). It must be emphasized, that the cited qualitative interviews were conducted before the ‘official’ beginning of the Arab Spring. Foreign aid aimed at improving the Palestinian socio–economic conditions and building institutional system of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Its utmost objective has been supporting the Oslo Peace Process and any related Israeli-Palestinian efforts for returning to the negotiation table in the past decade. They have become open and visible in the Palestinian case since 2006 when the donor community (the Quartet) set three infamous conditions in exchange for accepting the results of the parliamentary elections [i]. However, donors provided foreign aid, in form of official development assistance and humanitarian aid for getting something back since the early 1990a: to see their agendas and conditions to be met (in general: Duffield 2001; in the Palestinian case: Nakhleh 2004; Said 2005; Le More 2008; Taghdisi-Rad 2011; Paragi 2012b).

Foreign aid, understood as ‘symbolic power politics between donor and recipient’ (cf. an earlier post) was much less symbolic in the minds of Palestinian recipients than it appeared to be in theory. It was simply seen as non-symbolic and evident means of control. Neither was it widely interpreted as being ‘innocent’ nor ‘altruistic’ gift provided without expectations to return. Donors’ support for the peace process was primarily perceived as something which aimed at asserting their own interests, let this interest mean altruistic support for a just cause or a less altruistic move to achieve foreign policy goals. Conditions were set to ensure Palestinian cooperation needed to meet these objectives. Palestinians, by accepting foreign aid were obliged to undertake commitments and to comply with conditions in exchange for foreign aid. While our respondents (in 2010) acknowledged that the West, honestly or not so honestly, was trying to help the Palestinian people build a state, the ‘conditions’ attached to foreign aid were understood as a means for ‘controlling the Palestinian aspirations’ by ‘creating dependency.’ Perceived Western agendas covered a wide range of conditions starting with ‘not expecting’ Israel to give up ‘her positions’ within the occupied territories, through supporting the peace process, and convincing the PNA to marginalizing less moderate elements, such as Hamas. For the Western world was ’not so keen on pressuring Israel into a solution,’ their cooperation with the Palestinians became ‘conditional on the [domestic, Palestinian] support for the peace process’ and ‘survival of PNA/Fatah’. It is worthwhile to note, that this argument was diametrically opposed to the one suggested not just by the Western diplomats and international press, but also by the academic literature emphasizing that it was the peace process – the Oslo Accords – which required financial support.

Palestinian respondents agreed that the PNA and the Palestinian people were obliged to pay the price of getting access to official development assistance. And the price to be paid was giving up elements of their national identity by means of complying with donor-set conditions. Conditionality, as an NGO leader put it: ’[r]esults in more division in the society. (…) If one wants to work with a certain donor, one will need to comply with certain policies, the donors’ policies. PFLP and Hamas will not get money from donors. (…)This creates an ‘imbalance’ between the people that receive funding from donors and all others’ [ii].

Cooperation, solidarity or cohesion between the donors and the Palestinian recipients (PNA and official bodies, NGOs benefiting from aid) prevailed at the expense of unity and agreement among the main beneficiaries, namely, Palestinian subgroups and individuals. This conviction was clearly shared by other respondents too: ’as long as we achieve their [donors’] interests, we are moderate. It diminish[es] [hurts] our national values’ [iii], or ’[t]hese donations … are the price of our [moderate] political stands’ [iv], or ’aid is a method [a means] to pressure the PNA to accept certain things. This happened when the international community forced the PNA to form a new government after the elections [in 2006]. Since the Palestinians are fully dependent on this aid, most of them became unemployed or poor [after the elections]. All this helps Israel and harms the Palestinian national aspirations’ [v].

More about the Palestinian perceptions on conditionality: Paragi 2012b.

Notes, sources and references:

[i] Two legislative elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process, the first in 1996, the second in 2006. At the January 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas (List of Reform and Change) won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council (it gained 74 seats of the 132) defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party, the main partner for peace with Israel and partner for cooperation with the donor community. Reactions from Israel and the Western (OECD DAC) donor community led to governmental crisis and the split between Hamas (gaining control over the Gaza Strip) and Fatah (keeping its position in the West Bank). In June 2007, Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the government led by Ismail Haniye, and appointed Salam Fayyad as a prime minister. This move and the reforms implemented by Fayyad (and financed by the donor community) led to further rifts between the leadership sponsored by the international community and the PLO/Fatah.

[ii] Interview with the Palestinian leader of an international NGO, Ramallah, August 3, 2010

[iii] Interview with a tribal judge, hamula (extended family) leader and PNA official, Bethlehem, August 1, 2010

[iv] Interview with a former PLC member, Bethlehem, August 7, 2010

[v] Interview with the director of a Palestinian NGO, Gaza City, August 12, 2010

Recent changes of EU aid policies are embodied in joint communications of the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (and addressed to the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions). They bear the titles ‘a partnership for democracy and shared responsibility with the southern Mediterranean’ (March 2011) and ‘a new response to a changing Neighbourhood’ (May 2011). Further speeches, memos, (implementing) decisions and communications build on these documents. All of them aim at supporting political transition (towards democracy), economic transition (to real market economy) as well as developing contacts between various segments of the (civil) societies in addition to enhancing regional cooperation. The so called ‘partnership for democracy and shared prosperity’ is said to be mutually beneficial (in terms of trade and economic relations). The new approach is based on a the following principles: joint and shared commitment (to common values, such as democracy, human rights, social justice, good governance, rule of law), mutual accountability (or clarity on respective commitments), differentiation (being more adaptive to specific country needs and circumstances) and last but not least the partnership is utterly ‘incentive based’. This latter is about providing ‘greater support to partners engaged in building deep democracy’. Unlike the previous policies and programmes, the increased EU support to ME countries is conditional, namely, ‘depends on progress in building and consolidating democracy and respect for the law of rule’. It is explicitly worded in the documents that ‘the more and the faster a country progresses in its internal reforms, the more support it will get from the EU’ (COM 2011b: 3).

As Marcel Mauss formulated in his essay sur le don and Tomohisa Hattori emphasized, the primary purpose of giving is the initiation or maintenance of social relations – not the allocation of resources (Mauss 1925/2002; Hattori 2001: 637). The same applies to foreign aid, namely, development assistance, military aid, and with some constraints, humanitarian aid too. Foreign aid creates the sense of community among the donor and recipient countries (societies) and, in the ‘statistical case’ of ODA (official development assistance) it maintains durable relationships between the developed and the developing world. Giving and getting foreign aid, let it be a grant or a loan provided on concessional terms, entails ‘social consequences’ among the members of the international community. Equally, foreign aid can be interpreted as a ‘currency’ buying the benevolence, goodwill and cooperation of the recipient. Here, access to information matters as much as on the traditional market. Since donors and recipients are not equal in terms of their economic, financial, military power, the recipient does not have the right to choose how to pay back or return the gift. The donor is aware of the demand on the recipient side knowing quite well what symbolic price – in form of conditions – can be asked in return.

Both Hattori and Nathalie Karagiannis used Pierre Bourdieu’s concept on symbolic domination to describe and interpret aid relation as a practice of establishing social hierarchies (Hattori 2001: 639–640; Karagiannis 2004: 110–115). The pressure that social facts exert upon the members of the society resides in the power of the dominant (Durkheim 1982: 50–59). In aid relationships this ‘pressure’ is embodied in the practice of conditionality, a key element of which is ‘the use of pressure, by the donor, in terms of threatening to terminate aid, or actually terminating or reducing it, if conditions are not met by the recipient. Foreign aid is used as a lever to promote objectives [being different from the stated objectives of the foreign aid itself] set by the donor whom and that the recipient would not otherwise have agreed to’ (Stokke 1995: 11–12).’ The emphasis is placed on the coercive element: on the denial of aid (‘gift’) resulting from non-compliance. More on aid, conditionality and perceptions: Paragi 2012b.

Hattori, T. (2001) ‘Reconceptualizing Foreign Aid’ Review of International Political Economy 8 (4): 633—660

Karagiannis, N. (2004) Avoiding Responsibility. The Politics and Discourse of European Development Policy. London: Pluto Press

Mauss, M. (1925, 2002) The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routlege

Paragi, B. (2012b) The Spiritual Essence: Palestinian Perceptions on Foreign Aid, Conditionality and Reciprocity. Journal International Political Anthropology 5 (1) 3-28 Sørensen, G., ed (1993) Political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass

Sørensen, G. (1995) ‘Conditionality, Democracy and Development’ in O. Stokke (ed): Aid and political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass, pp. 392-409.

Stokke, O. ed (1995) Aid and political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass

The way how people in recipient countries think about and reflect on the meaning, roles and efficiency of foreign aid has received little attention with the exception of a memoirs of former aid workers (such as, for example, The Road to Hell written by Michael Maren), Oren Ginzburg’s illustrative graphics (The Hungry Man books) or a recently published collection of recipient views, titled Time to Listen and edited by M. B. Anderson et al).

In terms of the Middle East, much has been written on the objectives, roles, functions and measures of foreign aid and international (mainly Western) assistance devoted to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Diwan – Shaban 1999; Hooper 1999; Brynen 2000; Nakhleh 2004; Keating et al. 2005; Le More 2008, Nakhleh 2011). Only one survey conducted by the Development Studies Program at Bir Zeit University (DSP) in 2004 can be cited which measured local views on international assistance; its results were summarized by Nader Said (2005). Indeed, one way of answering the question ‘how foreign support relates to domestic phenomena’ is to ask people living on the recipient side of the development story.

To capture and measure local perceptions on Western assistance, a series of individual in-depth interviews and a few focus group interviews were conducted in the Palestinian territories in July and August 2010. The research was partly based on a series of surveys and opinion polls carried out earlier by Fafo in the period of 2005 to 2010 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; quantitative and qualitative data equally prompted that the function and effects of international assistance were quite controversial (Fafo 2008; Fafo 2010a; Fafo 2010b).

To learn more about the Palestinian perceptions, 21 in-depth individual and 3 mini focus group semi-structured interviews were conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in July and August 2010. Qualitative data were collected through direct encounters with Palestinian individuals. All interviews were semi-structured containing a series of open-ended questions concentrating on three main areas: (i) basic concepts and local interpretations of international assistance; (ii) past and present experiences with foreign aid and future expectations regarding its role and impact; and (iii) the perceived priorities of Western foreign assistance with reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The interviewers both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip had the opportunity to engage the respondents in an “informal” conversation as well as to urge them to elaborate on their original response in order to encourage them to reflect further on the question or topic at hand. Transcripts of the interviews were processed by the means of manual content (discourse) analysis. The qualitative interviews confirmed some of the findings of the previous polls but found that Palestinians attributed additional functions to foreign aid too. Foreign aid was seen as (i) external help easing sufferings, (ii) a way of control, (iii) a means to achieve certain related and various distant political goals, (iv) a reward for good performance, (v) compensation deserved by Palestinians, and (vi) a means to maintain the Israeli occupation.

Impressions and sentiments as well as roles and functions of foreign aid as perceived by the recipient were among the novel findings of the research. It must be emphasized that Palestinians were at a loss to explain and assess the advantages and disadvantages of foreign aid. On the one hand it was emphasized that Palestinians were simply forced to betray their most important national goals and dreams by accepting foreign aid. Access to Western aid was seen as conditional on their ‘unconditional’ support for the overall goal, namely the Oslo peace process and a two-state solution. As long as Palestinian recipients shared the donors’ norms and values and/or their understanding of peace process, they received aid. When compliance with Western conditions was refused, as the case of Hamas proved, access to aid was denied. Due to this conditionality, foreign aid was perceived to bolster the intra-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. On the other hand they did not really know what else to expect from the donors except receiving more aid. Although foreign aid officially aimed at supporting the peace process, it was perceived widely as a means for maintaining in practice what should be eliminated in principle, namely the Israeli occupation. Since donors were perceived as being aware of it, Palestinians could not but conclude that Western donors provided foreign aid either for realizing alternative political goals or for their conscience’s sake. Research results were summarized in form of two papers (Paragi 2012a, Paragi 2012b).

Causes and consequences of the ‘Arab Spring’ have received considerable attention in Europe since winter of 2010/2011. While concerns about the stability of regimes go back many decades, fears about the decreasing legitimacy of long-supported allies and subsequent instability in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) appears to be at higher level now than before. The research project embraces the issue how relations between the Middle East and the West (with particular emphasis on the EU) have been changing in a broad sense and more narrowly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The project contends that an important component of these relations has been the trade-off between the foreign support channeled in the form of aid to governments in the Middle East and benefits (regional stability, regime stability) ensured for such support. However, this trade-off has been challenged by the ‘Arab Spring’. Despite the billions of foreign aid channeled to simultaneously maintain stability and promote peaceful democratic transition, the internal legitimacy of supported regimes as well as regional stability weakened all of a sudden during the winter of 2010/2011.

The ‘Arab Spring’ may be seen as an unintended consequence of Western aid policies, because those policies have contributed to breaking down legitimacy and stability in two, mutually reinforcing ways: (i) for decades foreign aid policies bolstered weak regimes that could not have survived on their own; (ii) while at the same time by putting emphasis on democratic ideals and models they have educated societies on the necessity of change the status quo. Considering the case of Egypt (an ‘aid darling’ experiencing ‘revolution’), the case of Syria (an ‘aid orphan’ experiencing unrest and oppression), those of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Jordan (‘aid darlings’ exhibiting relative stability so far) combined with the specific case of Israel (a country which is neither entitled for, nor in need of development aid, but receiving billions of US military aid), the research seeks to answer the question how foreign support relates to domestic social-political phenomena (economic development, social conflict, power relations, legitimacy, political (in)stability) and how relations between the region and the EU have been changing in light of the recent events.