Monday, April 16, 2007

Growing Humanitarian Crisis Resulting From Boycott of Palestinian Territories

Source: Oxfam International

In response to Hamas’s April 2006 parliamentary victory, international donors, including the United States, Canada, and the European Union, suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority, the nominal authority (established in 1994 under the Oslo peace agreements) of the Occupied Palestinian Territories—marking the first use of sanctions against an occupied people. The boycott followed closely behind the Israeli government’s decision to hold on to tax and custom revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. One year later, a briefing note published by Oxfam International reports that according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the number of Palestinians living in deep poverty (defined as living on less than 50 cents per day) has doubled to over one million since the beginning of the boycott.

Although the boycott was aimed at pressuring Hamas to recognize the state of Israel, renounce violence, and honor previous political agreements and peace accords, the deterioration of essential services and previously unknown levels of factional violence attributable to economic sanctions against the Palestinians have caused some countries to reconsider the financial boycott. Following Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad’s visit with European Union leaders this week, when he stated that the newly formed National Unity Government would need US$ 1.35 billion in international aid to avert a crisis this year, Norway publicized its decision to resume aid—approximately US$ 100 million—to the Palestinian Authority some time this year. According to Oxfam, France, Ireland, Spain, Russia, and Sweden will likely recommence direct aid programs, though no definite plans have been set. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, Britain, and Germany continue to support the boycott.

The Palestinian Authority is the primary service provider for the Occupied Palestinian Territories; it is currently responsible for 416 primary health clinics, 22 hospitals, 1600 schools, and welfare payments to about 250,000 people. In 2005, prior to Hamas’s parliamentary win, total expenditure for the Palestinian Authority was US$ 1.92 billion. US$ 814 million in tax and customs revenue (collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority), in addition to US$ 849 million in international aid and humanitarian assistance, represented approximately 60% of the core income for the Palestinian Authority which has been lost due to sanctions.

Eight months into the boycott, the rate of poverty among the 161,000 people (who in turn support one million dependents) employed by the Palestinian Authority had risen to 71%. Among the general population in Gaza, household income has fallen by more than half, while 21% of household income has stopped completely. As incomes have fallen, small businesses and shops have gone bankrupt and staple items are no longer available. Schools and health facilities have been forced to close, drop-out rates for students have risen, medicines and medical care are either unavailable or inaccessible. The Oxfam report suggests that the boycott has had a more devastating effect on the economy than Israeli restrictions on Palestinians between the years 1999 and 2004.

The Oxfam report is highly critical of the sanctions. It argues that “international aid should be provided impartially on the basis of need, not as a political tool to change the policies of a government or to oust it.” The report also notes that the political objectives on which economic aid has been conditioned (e.g., that Hamas recognize the state of Israel) are unrelated to the effective use of the aid. In addition to poverty, the boycott has led to violence between Palestinians: 80,000 security workers have stormed buildings in more than 64 attacks, demanding their salaries, and more than 243 Palestinian civilians have died as a result of internal fighting.

For Discussion:

If the Occupied Palestinian Territories become a “failed state” due to the economic meltdown and humanitarian crisis, what will be the next step in Israeli-Palestinian relations and the so-called road to peace? Is it ever legitimate to impose economic sanctions on a civilian population in order to pressure political organizations in power? If Palestinians had not voted Hamas into power in the parliament, would the argument against sanctions be stronger? Should the democratic election be a factor in the distribution of aid?

No comments: