North Africa, West Asia

Foreign aid: development or 'de-development'?

Foreign aid has only incapacitated Palestinians and made them ever more dependent on the west. The aid industry must choose between either blindly subsidizing oppression or recognize what is actually taking place and cease its support. 

Hani Mahmoud
13 April 2014

The idea of foreign aid is rather attractive - at least theoretically. However, when examined carefully, foreign aid in its very nature entails a process of injecting large sums of money into developing countries otherwise gripped by poverty, war, and conflict. While in theory, that money should improve people's lives and alleviate poverty leading to sustainable growth and development, the stark reality is that foreign aid has often presented more challenges than opportunities.  

While the potential benefits of aid, if carried out in an appropriate and well-managed manner, cannot be overlooked, the positive impacts have not been proportionate to the amount of money donated. For the purpose of this argument, I am going to take Palestine as a case study.

Since the signing of the Oslo Peace Treaty and throughout its long track record, foreign aid has done little to improve the lives of Palestinians. On the contrary, it has deepened the level of dependency on the west through its generous flow of cash, whilst the colonization of the Palestinian territories has deepened.

Just to see the extent of how dependent Palestinians are on foreign aid, according to this report Palestinians are among "the world's largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid". Anne Le More’s International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo demonstrates how $8 billion of post-Oslo aid made its way to the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the purposes of 'development'; expanding the Palestinian Authority's capacity for emergency relief operations, and 'reconstruction'. Much of this, it was claimed, was needed to build the institutions necessary for a two-state peace process and to support socio-economic development.

Regardless of how big the figure is, this huge influx of money is conditional. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, in order for US aid to be dispersed to Palestine it must first meet certain and specific requirements. These include: preventing Hamas and other resistance organizations from conducting 'terrorist' operations against Israel; fostering stability, prosperity, and self-governance in the West Bank; and promoting the 'two-state solution'. Interestingly, the humanitarian side of US aid was not given as much emphasis in the report. 

Within this context, the aid industry is a key factor in Palestinian 'de-development' as Palestinians have scored zero sustainability so far. The discourse of 'aid', 'development' and 'reconstruction' is shielding Israel’s ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestinian territories. A third of the Palestinian Authority's budget is aid-subsidized. In addition to funding a distorted Palestinian political system, that is incapable of protecting itself, the aid industry is directly exempting Israel from the burden of responsibility for the destruction of Palestinian lives, livelihoods and infrastructure. By doing that, it allows Israel to focus its resources and efforts on the expansion of settlements, the expropriation of Jerusalem and the destruction of Gaza. As a result, the problem is acute, and if one looks at the figures it is not difficult to see that the many billions in foreign aid is not empowering Palestinians. 

Is there an alternative? 

Judging from the current situation; foreign aid is not the answer to the problem. It is true that some of the projects funded by foreign aid have helped alleviate some of the suffering and misery among Palestinians; however, this has only incapacitated Palestinians in the process and made them ever more dependent on the west. Therefore, the aid industry in Palestine must choose between either blindly subsidizing oppression or recognize what is actually taking place and cease its support. 

Mary B. Anderson’s Do No Harm framework offers an approach that is quite substantial in correcting the course of foreign aid. In Do No Harm, the interrelations between international aid in conflict contexts and the dynamics of those conflicts are analyzed — as well as codes of ethics developed by the UN, bilateral donors and international and national nongovernmental organizations.

Subsidizing a brutal occupation and illegitimate authority translates into the deliberate crushing of Palestinian aspirations and hence the very tools for creating lasting peace. As the world has witnessed through the “Palestine Papers,” when aid is de-politicized, donors and international organizations are able to pour billions of dollars into a colonial project under the masks of institution building and poverty reduction. Standing in stark opposition to the stated objectives of aid to Palestinians is the reality of subjugation.  

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