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United States

A lot has been written about foreign aid in the Middle East and the analytical framework offered by gift theories. An author can hardly wish a better ‘last post’ than a story written by life. While most development aid (ODA) – as financially un-reciprocated grant – is provided to Palestine, Egypt, Jordan (and Turkey), the biggest beneficiary of US military aid, however, is Israel.

A few days ago, the US Embassy in Israel – wishing shana tova before the Jewish New Year – sent gifts to Israeli and international organizations (civil society and non-governmental organizations included). It contained, among others, a bottle of wine from Jewish settlements. As reported by Reuters, +972mag and Newsweek, ‘one of the recipients of the gift basket containing settlement produce was Peace Now, an anti-settlement organization that monitors the Israeli government’s settlement policies and activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.’

While the message to most people is that ‘it is impossible to distinguish between Israel and its illegal settlements these days’, the explanation ‘accidental’ and ‘unintentional’ says equally much about the nature and unintended impacts of foreign gifts – foreign aid – channeled to the region. It is worthwhile to quote Mauss (1928/2002, 16):

“one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul. To retain that thing would be dangerous and mortal, not only because it would be against law and morality, but also because that thing coming from the person not only morally, but physically and spiritually, that essence, that food those goods, whether movable or immovable, those women or those descendants, those rituals or those acts of communion—all exert a magical or religious hold over you.”

Gifts – let them be private or public, innocent or calculated – have ‘magical, religious, and spiritual force’ even today. It applies at least as much to official foreign aid as to private donations. A bottle of wine can be rejected for its ‘spiritual essence’. Billions or a few thousands of dollars?  No way.

Al-Monitor published an article – authored by Uri Savir (Aug 30, 2015) – stating, among others, that “waiting for the international community has become synonymous with “waiting for Godot”, mostly because the peace process looks hopeless. It may be the case from a diplomat’s perspective, but researcher find this subject increasingly interested (if measured by the number of publications published in academic journals recently).
Two pieces from the Journal of Peacebuilding and Development (August 2015) – both are concerned with impacts and context of peacebuilding in Palestine:

Joanna Springer: Assessing Donor-driven Reforms in the Palestinian Authority: Building the State or Sustaining Status Quo

[Abstract] “Official development assistance for statebuilding provided to the Palestinian Authority (PA) has increasingly been focused on technocratic governance reforms that fail to address the root causes of conflict between Israel and Palestinians. A prime example is an emphasis on preparing mediumterm development plans despite the fact that the ongoing occupation prevents their effective implementation. The donor community is bound by the Fragile States Principles to strengthen state capacity to help prevent recurrence of conflict. Drawing on publicly available data and government documents, as well as interviews with stakeholders in PA development policy, this article identifies shortfalls in statebuilding strategy benchmarked against the Fragile States Principles. In order to fulfil their peacebuilding mandate, it is crucial for the donor community to address the role of the Government of Israel in governance failures in the occupied Palestinian territory and engage civil society more effectively.”

Ned Lazarus & Michelle I. Gawerc: The Unintended Impacts of ‘Material Support’: Us Anti-terrorism Regulations and Israeli/Palestinian Peacebuilding

“This briefing illustrates the problematic impacts of MSC regulations on peacebuilding through the examples of US-funded NGOs working in the Israeli-
Palestinian context. Drawing on testimonies from dozens of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding initiatives, the briefing highlights local NGO experiences with MSC regulations such as the Partner Vetting System (PVS) and the Anti-Terror Certification (ATC). As emphasised herein, the MSC regulatory regime complicates the struggles of peacebuilding organisations to attain legitimacy in their societies, affecting their ability to recruit participants, to build partnerships, and to achieve the impacts envisioned by donors and practitioners alike.”

Source and link: Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 10 (2), http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rjpd20/current#.VeRNZfmqpVI

 

The fact that  the US prioritizes Mubarak-era security arrangements over (transition to) democracy according to a draft version of a bill (Making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes) does not reflect more (nor less) that ties and bonds do matter as long as (i) there is a common enemy to win over or dangers to overcome (ii) democracy is not a sacred cow. Fear matters more than political ideas.

Reading p 133-134 (paragraphs on Egypt) it is clear how “foreign aid” is linked to regional considerations and donor interests: “Funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act that are made available for assistance for the Government of Egypt may be made available notwithstanding any provision of law restricting assistance for Egypt, except such funds may only be made available if the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that such government is (A) sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States; and (B) meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt- Israel Peace Treaty.”

AL-Monitor quotes panel member Dutch Ruppersberger, justifying the proposed bill this way: “If you have an ally you work with them. You don’t tear them down, you build them up (..) if we walk away, do you want China, Russia to move in and take them over? That’s kind of the things you have to look at.”

The objective of foreign (development, military) aid practices is to perpetuate the bond (Furia 2015, 4) as long as the bond is seen as a means or guarantee to prevent non-desired outcomes.

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Julian Pecquet: “Congress seeks to lift last restrictions on aid to Egypt” Al-Monitor, June 1, 2015 available at http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/06/state-department-congress-funding-egypt.html#ixzz3c5IFuVjz

… this is how Adam Taylor started his article published in The Washington Post in early October. The article is an entertaining attempt to summarize the complexity of relations in the Middle East by collecting all those images, charts and graphs that have been drawn during the past years to explain the relations among various actors. One of the first such attempt was published in the Financial Times last year (22 August 2013):

A Short Guide to the Middle East (from Mr K N Al-Sabah)

 

This and the remaining eight attempts illustrates well why it is senseless to raise questions about the impacts or efficiency of foreign aid. The ‘civil society’, NGOs or the population in general are not part of the game. Not even in the graphic-drawing minds.

Jihadist friends and foes; The Economist, 15 September 2014

Jihadist friends and foes; The Economist, 15 September 2014

Source: Adam Taylor (2014) ‘9 attempts to explain the crazy complexity of the Middle East’, The Washington Post, 1 October, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/10/01/9-attempts-to-explain-the-crazy-complexity-of-the-middle-east/