By Dina Jadallah-Taschler
Part I: Reconstructing Puppets
‘Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.’ Otto von Bismarck, (1815-1898), German Chancellor
Should we still believe that the Palestinian Authority, even in the event that it forms a Unity Government with its rival Hamas, can and will be the basis for the achievement of a sovereign Palestinian state?
The past few months have witnessed some very important and as yet unsettled developments not just in the Middle East, but all over the world. It is the purpose of this essay to discuss some (mostly economic and financial) elements of the international, regional and local Palestinian environment that will inevitably impact the political course of the Palestinian question. The first part will address the recent Quartet Roadmap to Peace inspired diplomatic machinations to contain and direct the Palestinian struggle. Because the military option failed to achieve the hegemons’ political objectives, the Quartet (1) is once again trying to use economic “aid” as a tool to achieve its political aims. Therefore, I will present a short dissection of the nature of the Occupied Territories’ economy under the Palestinian Authority in order to illustrate that there is a deleterious side-effect to aid. Its origins, preconditions and distribution may be (intentionally) harmful to any just “solution” for the Palestinians. The second part will focus on the cracks in the international and regional financial situation with regards to how they may impact the future of economic and financial hegemony over the political future of the Palestinians. Using several examples, I will argue that this creates potential opportunities for the reconstruction and fortification of resistance in its many manifestations.
Diplomatic and Economic Efforts to Reconstruct Puppets and Contain Resistance
Palestinian Unity Government talks have been suspended without reaching an agreement. There are several points of contention, but the main one is the demand by the Palestinian Authority that Hamas accept and abide by prior agreements with Israel. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman’s trip to Washington is also taking longer than planned, as he supposedly tries to soften the US stance on Hamas’ formerly taboo participation. (2)
After Israel’s military inability to topple Hamas or to achieve any of its political goals during its assault on Gaza, the consensus group of powerful international players are trying to contain and control Palestinian resistance. Continuing the historical record of injustice in dealing with Palestinians and their rights, a quick and coordinated response was launched from the Quartet. The title “Quartet” has harmonious musical connotations that aptly describe the “consensus” of the powerful who remain oblivious and/or uncaring toward the plight of those who have recently been (discordantly) bombed, starved, embargoed, imprisoned, killed, maimed, and what have you.
The Quartet’s pre-conditions to intra-Palestinian negotiations are recognition of I Israel’s “right to exist,” renunciation of violence, and adherence to past international agreements. Most recently, the US threatened that it will withdraw all of the pledged $900 million, if this new government does not acquiesce to all of the Quartet’s demands. (3) Naturally, these pre-conditions are not required of Israel. The latter, of course, does not (nor do the Oslo Agreements for that matter) acknowledge a Palestinian right to a state. It alone has the right to use violence, of the most brutal and technologically advanced kind. And it may continue ignoring international law and all United Nations resolutions against it – all 101 of them. (4)
This is an ironic twist but a faithful representation of some of the history of the UN. It, along with Britain, helped create the Palestine problem. It then helped perpetuate their plight by refusing to act and implement either international law or its own resolutions. Never once did the UN invoke Chapter VII of its charter which would have obliged the UN Security Council “to determine the existence of any threat to peace, breach of peace, or act of aggression” and to, militarily or non-militarily, “restore international peace and security.” Obviously, what Chapter VII fails to mention is that there is a hidden, but understood, selectivity as to whose peace and security is worthy of protection. Notwithstanding its past resolutions that supposedly represent international will, the UN is now a party to this most recent travesty (Quartet demands) in the pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict (now conveniently reduced and circumscribed to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and effectively denuded of its Arab dimension, since almost all Arab regimes have de facto, but “secret,” dealings with Israel.)
For local re-enforcement, the Quartet turned to the Egyptians (and Jordanians and Saudis) as their local representatives/enforcers of hegemonic decisions. The aim is to turn all Palestinians into obedient clones of ‘Abbas. Egypt is to force feed the “agreements” down (any Resistance-supporting) Palestinians’ throats, Jordan is to train any Palestinian “security forces,” and Saudi Arabia and the Quartet will handle the “financial aid.” The PA seems to be speaking the same language. Like the Egyptians, they are scrambling to preserve a role for themselves after the Gaza offensive. (5)
Quartet demands are problematical (to say the least) from the point of view of Palestinians that actually want to be free of occupation. Needless to say, the demands are completely divorced from any historical context. Nor do they adjust for any balance of power imbalance that is so critical to normal negotiations between opposing parties. While war has in the past achieved territorial expansion for Israel, it could not (and cannot) achieve submission and acceptance from the Palestinians. After the First Intifada, which was non-violent resistance and was effectively destroying Israel’s image as benign occupier, Israel had to resort to subterfuge in the form of “negotiations” and “peace process.” Fast forward to sixteen years (and a Gaza massacre) later, and there is no resolution and no Palestinian state. In fact, there has been a retrenchment of Palestinian demands. No, “demands” is a wild overstatement. Let me re-phrase that. What we have is Palestinian Authority supplication for the smallest remnants of rights, territory, economic development, and any other crumbs that Israel or the Americans can throw their way.
PA Functionality in the Economic Lever of Suppression
The “consensus” group is naturally seeking to influence the Palestinians by all means possible. Since the military option was not politically successful, the alternative tried and true method is through economic and financial controls over Palestinian society. For this, they are again turning to the local police enforcers, the PA.
As an illustration of how economic means are used to construct, re-construct, support, control, and threaten (depending on the agenda) I will use the example of the latest World Bank AHLC “Progress Report on the Implementation of the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan 2008-2010” (issued in London, May 2008). (6) (All page numbers in this section refer to this report.)
Most noticeable in the report are two things: 1) the strings attached to the aid and its contingent nature; and 2) the distribution of the aid. Both seek to control Palestinian leaders and society, but the former focuses on changing and controlling Palestinian political views and demands, while the latter aims at altering society socio-economically so as to make it more amenable to external hegemonic solutions.
For instance, at a time when Palestinian GDP has stagnated or fallen — GDP fell 8% in 2006, was 0% in 2007, and was “constrained” in 2008 — for the past several years, “aid” received by the PA for the first quarter of 2008 exceeded their sizeable budget deficit ($317m). (p. 11) The “surplus” aid ($208m) was 66% of the deficit (!) and was then used to “repay substantial wage and private sector arrears as well as loans and advances from the banking sector.” (p.6) Thus, money originating outside of Palestinian society is distributed to favored sectors (bankers, and civil servants who execute the commands of the PA) of that society. Moreover, relative to the size of the (highly aid-reliant) economy, “aid” support is quite generous. Importantly, aid is mostly NOT productively spent, for example on investments in agriculture or on infrastructure. There, most projects have been and are on hold due to donor “security concerns” over the situation in Gaza. (p.36.)
The report indicates that the only sector to receive an increase in support from donors is the “Governance Sector” which includes “security reform and transformation.” Table 6 shows that “governance” is overwhelmingly “security” which includes coordination between the various “forces” that constitute it. (There seems to be one for each fiefdom / officeholder.) Moreover, these same “forces” that help with “governance” seem to have a problem with accessibility (due to Israeli blockages and destruction of infrastructure after the Second Intifada) to areas B and C for law enforcement. Naturally there is no “governance” connection with Gaza, due to the “absence of a functional Palestinian Legislative Council.” Had it been present, the PA claims there would have been more progress on financial “accountability” and “transparency” reforms. (pp. 20-1, 23.) Given the nature of this “aid,” it is revealing that “accountability” in this case, refers not to the PA’s accountability to its own population that elected the Legislative Council, but instead, refers to the donors.
In contrast to “Governance,” the “Social Development Sector” is “grossly underfunded,” with allocations only to emergency and humanitarian assistance. (p. 7.) Charity was/is sometimes a form of maintaining unjust and unequal distribution of society’s resources. It continues to function in the same capacity in this example. As proof of the intentionality of (de-/non- development and its concomitant implications of dependency, every one of the seven programs in the “Economic Development Sector” are “all grossly underfunded.” Specifically, only 20% received funding. (p. 7)
Keeping Palestinian leadership in line also requires that the massive budgetary “aid” that they receive from international donors is given (or not) every six months. Thus while there was a surplus in the first half of 2008, there was an unfunded deficit for the remainder of the year. (p. 6) As for Palestinian society, keeping them on a leash required the suppression and decline of wages. This was accomplished by paying salaries intermittently. Then inflation took care of another portion of real wages. (p. 10) Ironically, the PA maintains in the report (and the World Bank does not see the irony) that they are “expanding the social safety net.” (p.11) One wonders how, when that sector is admittedly “grossly underfunded,” and when a regressive “new simplified income tax law, with a maximum marginal rate of 15% for individuals and companies” was signed by ‘Abbas in March of 2008? (p. 11) Even the self-declared “leader” of free-wheeling capitalism, the USA, cannot pass such a tax law. But that was not the only means of suppressing Palestinian society (as well as controlling its appointed leaders). The Israelis also withheld tax revenues ($422m in 2007) that amounted to more than the deficit. (p. 14)
To grasp the motivations and hidden intentions of the “consensus” that are embedded in “aid” one need only look at Table 4 (p. 17) which lists the donors. The predictable regional suspects are revealed: the aid is overwhelmingly Saudi followed closely by the UAE. Others on the list are Algeria, Kuwait, and Qatar. Relatively modest “aid” is also provided by the real puppet master, the USA.
Consider all of the above. And then add the facts that trade with Israel constitutes a stunning 95% of total trade volume; that the number of checkpoints is almost 600; that there is no access to agricultural land in the West Bank, thanks to the Apartheid Wall; and that closures by Israel have shut down almost all productive economic life out of the Occupied Territories. (pp. 31, 34.)
A Palestinian Proto-state?
How can any reasonable Palestinian believe the promises being made by the international community or by their own leaders?
Maintaining the fiction of the efficacy and contributions of the PA is part of the problem. It hides the fact that the Palestinian “government” is no such thing. It is the equivalent of a comprador class from colonial times and, not unlike neighboring states, is the Palestinian version of the regional neo-colonial remnants that continue to function as extensions of Western hegemonic control. On an international public opinion level, doing so hides the daily oppression and brutality of a vicious and murderous occupation under which Palestinians live. And on the internal Palestinian level, it is an excluding mechanism by which Palestinian society is fragmented, gutted, and reconfigured into a highly unequal and lopsided distribution of resources and power that seeks to destroy any and all criticism and resistance, and any and all higher demands for fundamental rights as all are forced to focus on subsistence and survival.
Can what is described above qualify as the foundations on which will be built a future Palestinian State? Is it not more like a prison? Perhaps not as obvious as Gaza, but does the above not reveal that the Oslo “Peace” Process was a hoax? That is, if the lack of achievement of a sovereign state after 16 years of negotiating has not been convincing enough.
– Dina Jadallah-Taschler is an Arab-American of Palestinian and Egyptian descent, a political science graduate, an artist and a writer. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) The Quartet is comprised of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia.