While rock stars made poverty the central issue in the world’s biggest concert at the weekend, the world’s most powerful leaders are under increasing pressure to do something concrete about it. This week the leaders of the G8 — the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia — meet in Gleneagles, Scotland, hosted by Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair. G8 leaders have been called to end poverty by doubling aid, fully cancelling debt, and delivering trade justice for Africa. But while African poverty may feature in the G8 debate, other issues such as rising oil prices, climate change and Gaza disengagement may get more attention.
Today, the leading British sherpa, Michael Jay, said the world leaders will start on Thursday morning with a debate on global economic problems and climate change. Then G8 leaders will gather for dinner and another session, which will focus on the same problems but in an expanded format — together with some carefully chosen developing countries guests: India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. Among participants will be UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and heads of the World Trade Organisation, the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Then G8 leaders will discuss foreign political issues. Special attention will be given to the situation in the Middle East. Quartet special envoy for Israel’s disengagement plan and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn will give a speech at the summit to inform G8 leaders about his vision on the settlement of the conflict.
The US President George W Bush said he wants the leaders to discuss “how we can all help the Palestinians improve their security, enhance the entrepreneurial spirit so people can see their lives improve.” In talks with Crown Prince Abdullah, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was seeking backing for a “package of support” he wants G8 leaders to extend to Palestinians ahead of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. “We discussed the Middle East situation and I explained that we wanted to have an initiative at the G8 next week to help the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the disengagement,” Blair told journalists.
Two weeks ago, before G8 foreign ministers met in London to discuss the agenda, the members of the Quartet met and reiterated their support for Wolfensohn’s mission. He has been appointed to give a unilateral plan the guise of an international project. Government statements have only stated support for the “revival of the Palestinian economy”, “reform”, “anti-corruption efforts”, “a comprehensive budget strategy” and “private sector job creation”. But while G8 leaders discuss “aid packages” and “reform strategies” other developments on the ground render any progress impossible.
The Quartet has failed to stop the construction of the Wall and the establishment of new, and expansion of existing, Israeli settlements. One year after the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the Wall — later backed by a UN General Assembly resolution overwhelmingly adopted by 150, including seven G8 members (6 votes (including the US) with 10 abstentions) — the world has failed to ensure Israel comply with international law and dismantle the Wall.
The Court stated that Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law, to cease the works of construction of the Wall and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto. The Court stated also that Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the Wall. Moreover, the Court stated that all states, and so also the G8, are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. Additionally, all States Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, including all G8 members, have the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.
Therefore, instead of providing charity to the Palestinian Authority or pay for the damage done by 38 years of Israeli occupation, the G8 should consider what action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall and the associated regime. Considering that the Court also concluded that “the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law,” the G8 also need to consider what action it will take to bring an end to the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements.
The current settlement construction mainly is taking place within areas surrounding Jerusalem, the Kiryat Sefer bloc, and also in Ariel, Kedumim, Karnei Shomrom, and Alfei Menashe. This is a blatant attempt by the Israeli government to try to force a new boundary on the Palestinians in the West Bank. This boundary will annex over 10 per cent of the West Bank to Israel. At the same time, there is construction in the settlements that will remain outside the current route of the Wall, as well as construction of additional bypass roads.
The massive construction in the settlements is officially approved by the government. The Israeli government is still spending millions of dollars every year to entice Israelis to move into the West Bank. Comparatively low housing prices, very generously subsidized mortgages, and a range of incentives offered by the Israeli government to people who move to the West Bank have all had a huge impact on the numbers of Israelis choosing to reside in the West Bank in the last three decades. Despite the fact that Israel is slated to evacuate its illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip, construction in the Strip continued even during the first quarter of 2005.
While the Quartet and so the G8 continue to reaffirm the “two-state vision” and “the Roadmap” as “the best way to achieve a permanent peace and an end to the occupation”, Israel has failed to comply with the demands from the overwhelming majority of the world population (150-6, with 10 abstentions — cancelling debt, doubling aid, or trade justice never received such an overwhelming majority). The only action left for the Quartet was an expression of “concern over settlement activity”.
Perhaps it is a coincidence. The United States spends more money on aid to Israel than aid to Africa. In 2003, Israel alone received $3.7 billion in aid from the United States. In contrast, Washington’s annual African aid is $3.2 billion. Washington spends $200 million on “support [for] Palestinian political, economic and security reforms”. However, $50 million of that money directly ends up in Israeli hands to build terminals for people and goods at checkpoints surrounding Palestinian areas. Another $2 million for Palestinian health care was provided to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, while the allocation of the rest of the money is tightly prescribed.
The crisis in Palestine is a man-made crisis. Despite massive aid efforts, the unemployment rate in occupied Palestine is still devastatingly high. Poverty in the West Bank and Gaza is directly related to Israeli actions against Palestinians. With over 600 checkpoints, gates, earth mounds, trenches, flying checkpoints, roadblocks and, not least, the Wall, Israel has crippled all movement of people and goods and by doing so also inflicted a total collapse of the Palestinian socio-economic fabric.
Instead of paying the price for political inaction or compensation for international failure, the G8 should force Israel to end the occupation. Even if the international community would double its total aid efforts and donate more than $2 billion US per year, the poverty level would only decrease by about 10 per cent according to World Bank studies. This clearly shows that the bilateral and multilateral aid methods are limited in scope and capacity and could at best only alleviate parts of the human suffering that the Israeli occupation has created. What Palestinians need is the implementation of international law. Palestinians are not asking for charity but justice.
Arjan El Fassed is one of the founders of The Electronic Intifada