BEIRUT - The international pledges of some $4.5 billion in aid to the Palestinians to rebuild the Gaza Strip and promote the development of the West Bank seem like a monumental folly in view of the surrounding political context of this gesture. The financial generosity of the donors is largely offset by their political cowardice on two fronts:
• Challenging Israel to live according to the norms of law in its treatment of Palestinian land and people under its occupation; and,
• Coming to grips with Palestinian political realities, especially the legitimacy and role of Hamas.
On both counts, generous donors seem unwilling to admit that they are perpetuating a wasteful cycle of Palestinian and international construction in Palestine that is set back by repeated Israeli destruction through war, followed by repeated rounds of reconstruction. This recurring cycle is striking for its sheer waste, but also for what it reveals about the willingness of the international community to use reconstruction aid as a political tool -- a failed tool that should be abandoned in favor of a more productive approach.
It was bad enough when the Israeli government in recent years was able to convince the United States to largely adopt its positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict; it was another step backwards two years ago when the four Quartet members (United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) also sided with Israel by refusing to deal with Hamas until the latter recognized Israel and stopped military resistance. This trend has now gone one step further by lining up a wide range of donors who seem to be willing to use their aid to try to bolster the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, while denying Hamas any international legitimacy and ignoring Israeli actions on the ground that make peace-making seem so distant.
This occurs while Israel makes it clear that it plans to continue expanding its settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the expected coalition that will rule in Israel seems to represent a step backwards -- in its unwillingness to formally accept the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as a realistic element of a permanent peace agreement. Throwing large amounts of money into Palestinian reconstruction while reinforcing a political context that only perpetuates Israel’s regular destruction of Palestinian institutions is wasteful folly at best, and complicity in criminality at worst.
The latest danger is that major external players like the United States and the Europeans will now try to equate the Israeli colonization of the West Bank and Jerusalem with the small and largely harmless mini-rockets that Hamas and others fire mostly into the desert of southern Israel. These are not parallel or equal actions and should not be bundled into a package of moral or political equivalence. Both must stop if peace and normalcy are to rein one day for both people, but lasting peace requires the ability to grapple with the deeper causes of the conflict.
This means, from the Palestinian perspective, addressing the siege and strangulation of Gaza, the colonization of the West Bank by Israeli settlers, and the wider issue of Palestinian refugeehood from the 1947-48 period. From the Israeli viewpoint, peace requires the Palestinians and Arabs to live with a predominantly Jewish Israeli state that is seen as legitimate, and to stop armed resistance against it. This is the equation that touches on the core, existential needs and rights of both sides.
Camouflaging the Israeli colonization of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem under a cloak of money while the underlying colonization remains unchanged has not worked in the past and will not work today. Hillary Clinton will discover this for herself soon enough as she enters the difficult world of Arab-Israeli politics. Her statement at the Gaza reconstruction conference Monday that the United States supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel will remain void of credibility or impact if American policy continues simultaneously to acquiesce silently in the Israeli colonization of Palestinian land.
Resolving a conflict must start with a clear, honest, complete acknowledgment of the basic causes of the conflict. In this case conflict resolution requires ensuring the integrity of statehood for Palestinians and Israelis, and removing the causes of their mutual communal exile, disenfranchisement, and sense of vulnerability in the recent past. Using billions of dollars in international aid to maintain much of the Israeli siege of Gaza while trying again to prop up the Abbas government and ignoring the role of Hamas will not move anyone closer to genuine peace or security. Repeating the mistakes and biases of the past seems like a foolish way to approach peace-making.
We have enough adults in the Middle East who act like animals; the last thing we need is adults in the international donor community who act like children.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Copyright © 2009 Rami G. Khouri – distributed by Agence Global