Why has Europe begun to question its role in the Palestinian financial system? A recent diplomatic conference highlighted the problems of the Palestinian economy; strikes, corruption, high unemployment, and more. The event was hosted in Prague and since 1991, the European Union – through its taxpayers – has been arguably the principal monetary supporter of the Palestinian territories, directly and through organization such as UNRWA. The flow of these billions is set to continue, at least to the end of the decade. Yet throughout this period, there have always been three key ‘misfits’, enveloping these subsidies.
1. Why has the Palestinian cause earned such large fiscal attention, when others in Africa and elsewhere have missed out? It is a decade ago since Nigel Roberts, former ranking World Bank representative in the region surmised global financial support for Palestinians as “the highest per capita aid transfer in the history of foreign aid anywhere ”.
2. Why has the Arab League, for all its wealth, never matched the contributions of the Europeans?
3. Why is Palestinian poverty highlighted and blamed solely on the Israelis, when a World Bank report noted that the Palestinian economy grew under Israeli control by 5.5% annually up to 1999? That is a phenomenal performance, absolutely and relatively.
Something does not add up. Back in 2003, the European Union investigated claims of fraudulent use of its resources by the Palestinians. The report under Christopher Patten was never released. (Interestingly, Patten went on to run the BBC and was famed for burying reports there). In parallel, The Funding for Peace Coalition was active for many years on these same issues. As the website poses: Where has all this money disappeared to? These are contribution paid for by farmers in Greece, small businesses in Germany or even the owner of a pub in Putney, London What has been achieved through their generosity? Specifically, as Alarabiya News questioned regarding Suha Arafat, how did the wife of the former Palestinian Chairman amass such wealth? Should people be concerned? I believe so and for three separate reasons: First, it is an issue of good governance. A taxpayer expects his representative to take responsibility. He has a fundamental right to know where his money ends up and that it is for a reasonable purpose. It is difficult to find any other subject, where such sums – billions – were and still are transferred with relatively little transparency and accountability. Second, as reported above, there are a lot of poor Palestinians. No argument. They deserve better. It is staggering to consider that the financial transfers from the European Union have not made a more lasting and significant positive contribution on the Palestinian economy. It is even more amazing when you compare this failure to the World Bank analysis, noted above, about how the economy had previously leapt forward when Israel had full control of the territories. Third, there is considerable evidence, which suggests that not only have funds been diverted for the benefit of an autocracy, both in Hamas and in the Palestinian Authority. Monies have ended up in the hands of terrorists. As admitted in the House of Commons in London, by a minister at the Foreign Office, Mr Hugh Robertson, “UK officials raised the issue of payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails with the Palestinian Authority (PA) most recently in March 2014. The International Development Committee also received information on this issue from the Minister of Finance during their visit in March.” In the same vein and possibly even more bewildering was the question raised in the European Parliament by Michal Kaminski.
- “It is a well-known fact that the Palestinian Authority proudly owns up to illegally spending over 6% of its budget – donated by, among others, the EU, where funding terrorism is against the law – on salaries for terrorists in Israeli prisons and pensions for the families of suicide bombers. The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Minister, Issa Qarake, has admitted on television that the salaries are directly proportional to the terrorists’ sentences and the number of Jews they have killed……What is the Commission’s strategy to stop EU funds being used to pay salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons? “
And the response:
- “The EU is aware that the Palestinian Authority has a system of allowances in place for Palestinian prisoners, their families and ex-detainees. This scheme is not and has never been financed by the EU. “
Maybe………..BUT how did the PA have enough money in the first place to distribute such payments? For the record, there is also growing disapproval of some of the actions of UNRWA, to which Europe pays hundreds of millions of Euros annually. Not only does this billion dollar organisation have no external auditing procedures. It prints and distributes textbooks in its schools that appear to promote violent incitement against Israelis. So where to now? The current round of peace talks is precariously balanced. The Palestinians are fuming about the non-release of terrorists by Israelis. In turn, Jerusalem feels that President Abbas has deliberately instigated the crisis, just like at the beginning of the Intifada in 2000. In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu is forcing the Ramallah government to pay up on extensive debts, which sounds ironic in light of the above discussion. There is some hope. On the ground, individual Palestinian entrepreneurs are trying to work with Israelis. And Israel is actively seeking to open up commerce for its Arab population. It is also very welcome to see the read of the approach of Michael Theurer, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he observed how in December 2013,”the European Court of Auditors revealed major dysfunctions in the management of EU financial support to the Palestinian Authority, and called for a serious overhaul of the funding mechanism.” He continued:
- The report from the European Court of Auditors is a wake-up call on the need for stricter supervision of how EU funding to the Palestinian Authority is spent……A useful next step would be the imposition of clear benchmarks and conditions that the Palestinian Authority would have to meet in order to receive additional EU funds. These should include improving the state of human rights in the West Bank, cracking down on corruption and cutting off subsidies to convicted Palestinian terrorists.
Until then? The sad fact is that as long as Palestinian and European decision makers remain safely ensconced on their hilltops in Ramallah and in Brussels, Palestinian and Israeli civilians alike will continue to suffer, as will the bank accounts of European taxpayers.