Most Palestinians have firm opinion on how international (understood as Western) development cooperation works. Local experts’ publications, op-eds and blogs as well as qualitative interviews with local informants and activists being familiar with international aid seem to echo the same opinions and critiques: donor aid serves foreign interests and is not free from conditions in Palestine. The main argument, as summarized by Nora Murad, remains the same: ‘there is literally no aspect of the economy that is independent of Israeli control and international influence. (…) The PA answers to international/Israeli orders, and has almost no accountability to local communities. Sadly, international NGOs fail to live up to their civil society mandate. Instead, they compete with local NGOs for funding, staff and beneficiaries. (…) There is a massive and self-perpetuating ‘humanitarian’ system that not only constrains local agency, but also undermines traditional systems for interdependence and self-reliance” (Murad 2014). Note, that the quoted and other (Nakhleh 2004, Nakhleh 2012) local interpretations place ‘Israeli’ and ‘international’ next to each other: international development cooperation and the Israeli occupation seems to complete each other, even if the officially foreign aid is provided for keeping the ‘two-state’ idea alive.
In theory, foreign aid has aimed at improving the Palestinian socio-economic conditions and building institutional system of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Its utmost objective has been sustaining the Oslo Peace Process since the 1990s and supporting any Israeli-Palestinian efforts for returning to the negotiation table for the past decade.[i] Conditions became open and visible in the Palestinian case in 2006 when the donor community (the Quartet) set three conditions in exchange for accepting the results of the parliamentary elections.[ii] 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 (Nakhleh 2004; Le More 2008; Taghdisi-Rad 2011; Paragi 2012). Due to the consequences of the elections (Hamas takeover in Gaza, Israeli measures and restrictions, Fayyad’s development and reconstruction plans) and perhaps due to the ‘senseless’ being of the conditions formulated in 2006, the donor community has been very cautious to ask anything formally in exchange for aid since 2008. The structure, channels, forms of international assistance – provided partly through the PEGASE mechanism and from EU budget – has not changed regardless to the Arab Spring and the ‘more for more’ principle: conditionality officially and intentionally is not applied (cf. ECA 2013).
Further reading: Brynen, R. (2000) A Very Political Economy: Peacebuilding and Foreign Aid in the West Bank and Gaza.Washington: United States Institute of Peace (USIP); ECA (2013b) European Union Direct Financial Support to the Palestinian Authority. Special Report 14/2013 (Luxembourg: European Court of Auditors); LeMore, A. (2008) Political Guilt, Wasted Money International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo. London: Routledge; Murad, N. (2014): An alternative to international aid. OpenDemocracy.net; Nakhleh, K. (2004) The Myth of Palestinian Development. Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit. Jerusalem: PASSIA; Nakhleh, K. (2011) Globalized Palestine. The National Sell-out of a Homeland. The RedSea Press; Paragi, B. (2012b) The Spiritual Essence: Palestinian Perceptions on Foreign Aid, Conditionality and Reciprocity. Journal International Political Anthropology 5 (1) 3-28; Taghdisi-Rad, S. (2011) The political economy of aid in Palestine: relief from conflict or development delayed? London: Routledge
[i]The principal aim of the donor community was to support the Oslo Peace Process in line with the spirit of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberalization Organization (PLO)by adjusting to the background provided by the multilateral regional framework established after the Madrid Conference (1991).As worded in the Co-Sponsors Summary of the first meeting conveyed by international actors in the shadow of the DOP ceremony, the donors officially sought to pursue ‘twin goals’ in terms of immediate and longer term actions: to have a short term impact on economic prospects and living standards, to ensure that longer-term assistance lays the basis for launching sustained growth (Conference to Support the Middle East. Co-Sponsors Summary 1993). More on international support and foreign aid channeled to the PNA.
[ii] 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. In 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.