Thoughts on US aid cuts to Palestinians

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

The US under President Donald Trump is cutting aid to Palestinians, the full results of those cuts are not clear. Nevertheless there is a lot of discussion about what they mean. Are they targeting only parts of UNRWA, cutting by hundreds of millions the US annual aid that went to the organization which ostensibly helps refugees? It began with targeted cuts at UNRWA which was receiving some $350 million a year. But that has extended to other issues, with an announcement of a new round of cuts of $200 million in August and a reduction of UNRWA funding to near zero. Apparently the funding for the United States Security Coordinator, the funding that goes to the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, will remain at around $65 million a year.

So, what does it all mean?

There appear to be two issues here: One is whether the US should cut aid and the second whether that means the aid really goes down to zero. In reality the US can cut aid and the slack can be picked up by the EU and Gulf countries and other stakeholders. It seems reasonable that the US could reduce the aid that seems to have no real end to it, that has become “aid for aids sake,” at some point. Reduce though, perhaps in stages attached to certain incentives might be better than massive cuts. For instance “we will reduce at at the amount of $50 million a year for five years”…giving the PA and other donors enough time to step in and figure out what to do next.

It’s probably a good thing to let other countries play a larger role. Turkey, for instance, wants to play a role. Other countries pay lip-service to the Palestinian issue, but rarely want to pony up.

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A sign in Abu Dis lists different government offices and a foreign donor (Seth J. Frantzman)

But what about extremists?

The larger question about “what happens if aid is cut, doesn’t it do good things, doesn’t Israel actually want aid there, even though some Israelis pretend they don’t” is interesting. The idea that extremists will somehow enter the playing filed if aid is cut, seems to create a Catch-22 of blackmail whereby one must keep funding something forever under the threat that “if you don’t pay us, we might go extreme.” It seems that the fact that these places are always just teetering over whether to be “more extreme” indicates that extremism is already there and you can’t just throw money at people to make them not be extreme.

Likely the story that bad actors will somehow fill the vacuum is mistaken. There’s also a question about where all the money goes. Does it really go to help average people, or is that the story we are told in order to keep the tap flowing?
But actually Israel wants the money to keep flowing?

And there is a last question about Israel’s role here. When we are told that COGAT or Israel’s security establishment actually wants the aid flowing, what we are really being told is that Israel wants to outsource some of its problems to the US or the West and have the US keep picking up the tab.

Basically what these experts are saying is that “the US needs to keep funding Palestinians to encourage stability,” because Israel knows that it will suffer some side affects. But this is convenient for Israel to continually outsource its problems to others, this allows Israel to postpone forever the need for any kind of change in the paradigm of the conflict.

By reducing aid it actually puts the ball back in the court of the Palestinians and Israel and forces Israel to confront the reality that the “issue” of the West Bank cannot always just be put off by having the US throw money at it. This actually pressures Israel, or potentially does. In a roundabout irony then the Trump administration’s cuts are not necessarily in Israel’s interests. But Israel at some point has to take some responsibility for the fifty years of rule in the West Bank. Israel has preferred to see no incentive to get to a non-existent “peace deal” and 25 years after the Oslo Accords the Palestinians are not closer to getting a real functioning state. As long as there is no violence or crises in the West Bank, from Jerusalem’s point of view, then everything is going along fine. But Palestinians do not say life is fine, they still want more freedom of movement, more access to resources, education, and a better economy. Aid cuts may force some people in Ramallah and Jerusalem to face reality. After all, the PA has also benefited from this stability, unaffected mostly by some of the winds of chaos unleashed by the Arab Spring and threats of groups like ISIS.

 

 

 

 

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