Nothing could be more galling than Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz lobbying countries to increase their donations to the Palestinian Authority.
The deep economic crisis, which casts doubts on the PA’s ability to pay the salaries of its employees, let alone investing in development and expansion of infrastructure, is considered dangerous. And rightly so. But it’s not seen as dangerous for the Palestinians, heaven forbid, but for Israel’s security.
Economic collapse is tantamount to losing control, followed by a slide into riots, clashes, shootings and terror attacks. This equation has been tried “successfully” in the Gaza Strip. It worked well in Iraq, Sudan and Lebanon, and it now threatens Israel. Please give another few hundreds of millions to the Palestinians if you cherish Israel’s security interests, the minister for regional cooperation, Esawi Freige, is expected to say at a meeting Wednesday of the donor states in Oslo.
The response Israel should receive from the countries in the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee is this: “You first. If Israel’s security depends on the economic stability of the Palestinian Authority, take out your checkbook.”
How much is Israel’s security coordination with the PA worth, they should ask. How much is the calm worth – $100 million, $200 million? Perhaps $1 billion? They could be even more generous, saying they would match every dollar spent by Israel with one or even two dollars of their own.
The PA’s budget for this year is based on an anticipated deficit of at least $1.25 billion, and is asking the donor states for aid to the tune of $1 billion. Why doesn’t Israel donate half of that amount? A quarter? A percentage of what the government spends on settlements in the occupied territories? And yes, it is permitted to demand that Israel first return the money it withholds from customs revenues that belong to the PA – money Israel claims is used for covering the needs of the families of Palestinian prisoners and terrorists.
But this claim doesn’t jibe with the fact that Israel allows Qatar to transfer tens of millions of dollars to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel imports goods worth $2.7 billion a year from the West Bank. The state and its settlements employ 140,000 laborers (that’s the official number, anyway). These are cheap goods and labor, giving high added value to finished Israeli products or to labor costs. Some of these profits could be returned to the PA, whether as grants or as loans.
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The donor states must demand that Israel disclose the enormous amounts of money accumulated at the National Insurance Institute, originating in payments made by Palestinian laborers who will not receive any of this money through pensions or other benefits. If the collapse of Palestinian households is of concern to Israel, let it ensure that they can pick their olives, till their land and market their produce without any restrictions, harassment or checkpoints.
It wasn’t the donor states that occupied the territories, and they are not responsible for the quality of Palestinian lives or the functioning of the PA. They aren’t the ones required to pull Israel’s chestnuts out of the fire. The organization of donor states was established in 1993, shortly after the signing of the interim agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. It was not meant to assist Israel in holding the territories but to directly assist the Palestinians.
Over time, this aid became a means of absolving Israel from the financial burden of maintaining an occupation. Employing demagogy, one could argue that every dollar given to the Palestinians freed up an Israeli dollar for investment in settlements. This claim is hard to substantiate since Israel is not disclosing its best-kept secret: how much it is investing in the settlements.
If Israel is now using its security needs as justification for helping the PA, the donor states should pose some conditions of their own. Just like they condition their aid on it being allocated to specific projects (refraining from giving it directly to corrupt PA officials), they should also condition their donations on a sweeping change in Israel’s policy regarding human rights in the territories.