By Ramzy Baroud
In Malaysia, a small group of community activists are busy at work developing projects that benefit most vulnerable members of Palestinian society in Gaza.
Working under the umbrella of Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM), the group shows solidarity through empowerment projects: interest free loans for micro projects, providing employment for women, supplying thousands of solar lamps aimed at ending the persistent darkness for many families, and more.
The overall value of the combined efforts of VPM is important, because it is long-lasting. But equally important, the channeled funds are not part of a political scheme nor are aimed to exact concession. This can hardly be said of much of the relationship between Palestinian leadership and society, and outside funds, which began pouring in, with a clear political manual that has been dutifully followed by those who provide the funds and those who receive them.
That relationship was once more a subject of scurrility and discussion following the recent visit by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir of Qatar to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli siege soon following Hamas’ victory in the general elections in 2006. The siege became complete in 2007, when Hamas clashed with its rival Fatah, perceived by Israel and the US as ‘moderate’.
Al Jazeera said the emir’s arrival to Gaza was to “to inaugurate a Qatari investment project worth hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the impoverished and overcrowded coastal enclave.” Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh interpreted the visit at a grander scale: “The visit of the emir announces officially the breaching of the political and economical siege imposed on Gaza for more than five years.”
Analysts, depending on their political leanings, however, spoke of entirely different mechanism that compelled Qatar’s generosity. Those sympathetic to Fatah warned that empowering Hamas in the Gaza enclave to act as a state will further deepen the national divide. Others spoke more candidly of a Qatari reward to Hamas for leaving Syria at the height of the regional power play ignited by the so-called Arab Spring.
Judging by the largely measured or reserved response from Israel, the US and other countries that would have made it impossible for the emir to visit Gaza in the first place, Syria might have been the keyword behind the seemingly selfless effort.
But in any case, there are hardly any inconsistencies between this episode and a history rife of the political manipulation of funds. It is an intrinsic relationship that goes even earlier than the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993. Oslo, however, officiated and cemented that relationship in many respects. Merely two weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DoP) issues of international aid became a core subject involving mostly Western donor countries, Arab countries and others. Although the political dominion of Oslo is all but dead, international aid continues to flow. The rise and decline in funds are often affiliated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) report card, as in its ability to sustain a political charade and serve as Israel’s ‘partner’ despite the fact that Israel has completely altered the physical reality upon which Oslo was predicated.
Despite appearances, Mahmoud Abbas’ PA is much less immune to political arm-twisting as a result of its nearly two-decade entanglement of the international aid cartel, than Hamas. The latter, hardly immune itself is barely learning the ropes. They too will eventually learn that there is no such thing as free money, especially when those offering their services are very much at the heart of the political struggle for the future of the Middle East.
The link between political statements and action, and money is obvious for all to see. What may appear as political concessions can oftentimes be attributed to some frozen or funds waiting to be delivered. It is transaction-based politics at its best.
While the PA’s budget deficit stands at $1.3 billion, old friends are barely in a hurry to offset the financial crisis. The US is yet to free $200 million it pledged for the year 2012. The decision has everything to do with the PA’s attempt last year to obtain a UN membership for Palestine. Israel on the other hand, agreed to an early transfer of $78 million of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA fearing that a collapse of PA institutions could prove too costly for Israel as well. With the conspicuous retreat of international donors, and the measured Israeli moves, Israel is now earning a greater stake in the PA political investment in the West Bank. Israel is notorious for manipulating the weaknesses of the PA whenever the opportunity arises, as it surly will.
The financial entanglement of the Palestinians to obtain political goals is not confined to such obvious examples. In fact that political/financial barter is a major component that defines the relationship between Palestinian leaderships and factions and their supporters. It is the same paradigm that turned thousands of NGOs in Palestine into disconnected entities, less concerned with uniting behind a national liberation program, and more concerned with maintaining attractive portfolios that make their services more marketable among potential donors, mostly affiliated with the donors’ countries that have long leased the Palestinian political will in the first place.
It is difficult to say what it will take to free the Palestinian leadership and society from these impossible entanglements. But it goes without saying that those who rent their sovereignty to the highest bidder have no business speaking of national liberation, popular resistance and all the right sounding, but empty slogans.
– Ramzy Baroud (ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.