The new Palestinian Anti-Terrorist Act passed by the US House of Representatives last month is preventing aid agencies, like Mercy Corps, delivering assistance to Palestinians already burdened by poverty and hardship. Since the Hamas victory in the elections, Israel has punished the Palestinian people by withdrawing valuable tax breaks, freezing wages to teachers, healthcare employees, policemen and other municipal workers, and by limiting entry through checkpoints that Palestinians need to access in order to be able to go to work.
The funding from the “quartet” of the International donors – the US, EU, UN, and Russia hasn’t been delivered to the Palestinian people most in need, even though these countries and institutions pledged to deliver relief directly to those most in need. According to Sarah Malian of Christian Aid, NGO’s are experiencing severe difficulties in delivering aid to partner NGO’s in the region, and Christian Aid is also concerned at certain “donors” using Palestinian NGO’s to effectively bypass the Palestinian Authority. She also adds that the EU have initiated a temporary aid mechanism to restore some support for Palestinian health services and has also guaranteed fuel supplies.
As of June 20th, 165,000 public service workers who depend on the Palestinian Authority for their wages have only received a fraction of their income, and this is having a knock-on effect on their purchasing power. In tandem with this the PA’a inability to deliver vital aid to healthcare and education bodies because of the tightening of aid relief, has led the World Health Organisation to declare that the public health system is in danger of collapse. The Augusta Victoria Hospital, a vital resource to Palestinians in East Jerusalem is dangerously close to collapse due to its inability to pay staff and its bills, and if it is forced to shut its doors, it will compound an already critical political and humanitarian crisis. Despite an offer from several Arab states to fund these salaries, the relief hasn’t been applied as yet.
Dov Weisglass, an advisor to Prime Minister Olmert has asserted ominously: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” This statement was made in relation to the withholding by the Israeli state of approximately 48 million euros per month due to the PA in collected taxes, which equates to half the Authority’s revenue. With half of the Palestinian population reliant on food aid, the growth of poverty even among employed workers is likely to lead to further violence in the region. Within the Gaza Strip, the closure of the Karni border crossing, through which much of the commercialization flows, is creating huge difficulties in relation to freedom to markets, and is helping to create a situation where Palestinians have to join long lines to queue for bread.
According to Sarah Malian, the “stranglehold on the Palestinian economy is having a detrimental effect” on the Palestinian partner NGO’s that they support. Christian Aid recognises a number of recommendations: That neither Israel, nor indeed the PA have adhered to EU demands, but that “conditionality” only rests with the Palestinians, and that the wrong message will be allayed to the world community that only democratic elections by approved parties will be backed internationally, and it states that in order to alleviate the growing poverty aid should be administered immediately to those responsible for delivering it, particularly within healthcare and education, that “conditionality be applied impartially”, and that EU member states, including the UK and Ireland, insist that negotiations backed by UN laws and treaties and international law, and not measures adopted solely by the Israeli state, can bring meaningful peace to both camps.