Canada and the United States of America (USA), followed by the European Union and Japan, have suspended their financial aid to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). This came in the wake of the Palestinian legislative council elections that were held last January, the resulting victory of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) that secured the movement a parliamentary majority, and the subsequent formation of the Palestinian government by the Hamas parliament bloc. These parties, in an attempt to compensate for their decision to cut aid to the PNA, have decided to continue to provide humanitarian assistance through United Nations (UN) institutions and through non-governmental organizations (NGO’s).
This paper outlines the position of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) regarding these rapid developments, which will have severe repercussions in the upcoming period on humanitarian and living conditions for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The paper expresses PCHR’s dissatisfaction and disappointment at the double standards displayed by the afore-mentioned members of the international community, as well as their politicization of international law in order to employ it according to narrow interests and certain political considerations. In addition, the paper exposes the underlying dangers of the decision, not only because it constitutes collective punishment of the Palestinian people and contributes to a worsening of their economic and social suffering, but also the dangers for Palestinian civil society and NGO’s in the Arab world as a whole. These dangers are due to the following considerations:
1. Over the years, human rights organizations and other civil society institutions have been asking the international community to intervene effectively and seriously in order to take practical steps against the sustained challenge by the State of Israel and its occupation forces to international law, including International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. These requests were lodged in an effort to force Israel to respect its legal obligations towards Palestinian civilians in the OPT. Since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, local, regional and international civil society organizations have increased their calls for international intervention to protect Palestinian civilians in the face of escalating war crimes and other serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (as outlined in the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 on the protection of civilians in times of war) perpetrated by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) against Palestinian civilians. These legitimate demands are based on:
2. Despite all of this, there has been chronic failure by the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties of the 4th Geneva Convention and EU countries, to fulfill the afore-mentioned legal obligations. This failure has effectively encouraged the State of Israel (a belligerent occupation force) to continue to challenge international law, to act as a state above the law enjoying special political and legal impunity, and to persist in and escalate the perpetration of crimes and violations against Palestinian civilians in an unprecedented manner.
These crimes and violations included: excessive use of force; willful killing and extra-judicial executions; settlement expansion, land confiscation, and continued construction of the annexation wall; destruction of civilian property; imposing collective punishment including closure and severe movement restrictions; torture and inhumane treatment; and denying justice to Palestinian civilians, including denying them reparation for crimes committed by IOF against them, as well as “non-investigation” of thousands of these crimes. Over the past 6 years, these actions have resulted in serious humanitarian crises and in an unprecedented deterioration in the economic and social conditions of Palestinian civilians, including the increase of poverty and unemployment rates.
3. The requests of civil society institutions to the international community (especially the High Contracting Parties of the convention and the EU) have been reasonable within the framework of these parties’ legal obligations. For example, requests made to the EU did not call for imposing sanctions on the State of Israel, but for activating Article 2 of the Association Agreement and suspending the privileges given to Israel until it fulfills its obligations. Requests made to the High Contracting Parties simply called for a conference of these parties to be convened, in order to discuss options to force Israel to respect the convention and to work towards pursuing those responsible for serious violations of the convention.
4. In light of the escalating IOF crimes and violations against Palestinian civilians, it was hoped that these requests would be heard; and that the international community would take practical steps against Israel to ensure its respect for International Law.
5. Regrettably, the victim (the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation) was punished instead of punishing Israel for the crimes it perpetrates.
6. Decisions to halt financial aid to the PNA are a punishment of the Palestinian people as a whole for their democratic choice, and not a punishment of Hamas. The last legislative elections and their results were the culmination of a series of unique, democratic transformations and reforms. Despite the occupation conditions and their complications, the Palestinian people succeeded in holding free and fair elections that constitute a unique example of democracy in the Arab world as a whole. This successful democratic process was confirmed by the governments of the countries that subsequently decided to halt aid and impose sanctions.
7. These decisions will have severe repercussions on economic, social and living conditions in the OPT. These conditions have been deteriorating for years due to the closure policy and the policy of destroying property, including the bulldozing and confiscation of agricultural land, as well as other Israel policies targeting Palestinian civilians. World Bank figures indicate that more than 50% of Palestinians in the OPT are currently living under the poverty line. The poverty rate in the Gaza Strip is more than 70%. Unemployment is 34% in the OPT, but is 44% in the Gaza Strip. During times of complete closure, unemployment soars to 55% in the Gaza Strip.
International economic indicators point to a severe decline of nearly 40% in the Per Capita Income level compared to levels seen before the Intifada. The economic and social conditions will undoubtedly deteriorate further, especially if the PNA is unable to pay the salaries of its staff. Thus, an additional 150,000 workers will be added to the unemployment statistics.
8. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights strongly rejects the decision taken by members of the international community to halt their aid to the PNA, as well as their policy of attempting to continue to provide aid through civil society institutions. In this regard, the Centre warns of: The danger of presenting civil society institutions as agents and collaborators of foreign governments, and portraying them as partners in implementing their policies; Civil society institutions are not a parallel body or an alternative to the PNA and the Palestinian government; and civil society institutions are not qualified and are incapable of playing the role of the alternative to government.
9. The decisions to halt aid are devoid of logic and provoke the discontent of civil society institutions, including human rights organizations, as well as Palestinian and Arab democratic forces. The Centre warns of the dangerous consequences of these decisions on Palestinian and Arab public opinion, and their negative effects with regards to: Blemishing the picture of civil society and its institutions, and undermining its struggle for democracy, human rights, and sustainable development; and undermining democracy by having countries that call for democracy subsequently turn their backs to the results of fair and free elections, and having these countries adopt double standards in this regard.
10. The world as a whole has fallen for the Israel policy of unilateralism in the OPT. After the siege and isolation the late President Arafat, Israel hastened its unilateral policies and steps under the pretext that there was no Palestinian partner. This included the construction of the annexation wall, settlement expansion and confiscation of Palestinian land. After the death of President Arafat in November 2004 and the subsequent election of Mahmoud Abbas as President of the PNA in free and fair elections in January 2005, Israel continued its unilateralism under the same old pretext. This included the implementation of the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the continued construction of the annexation wall in the West Bank.
The last legislative elections, followed by the Hamas victory and formation of government, were additional pretexts employed by Israel to continue its unilateral policies and impose irrevocable facts on the ground in the OPT. The danger herein is that the world has started to adopt the Israeli policy; thus turning the issue from ending the Israeli occupation and its actions against Palestinian civilians, and from forcing Israel to respect International Humanitarian Law, to collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
The decision to halt financial aid to the PNA is a punishment of Palestinian civilians in the OPT during a time of IOF escalation of crimes and violations against these civilians, including closure, denial of basic humanitarian needs, destruction of property and bombardment. Regrettably, these crimes are perpetrated under the eye of the international community, without serious international action to force Israel to respect its legal obligations and respect International Humanitarian Law regarding the protection of civilians at times of war.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights expresses its disappointment at the double standards employed by the countries that have decided to halt aid in general, and the EU in particular. The Centre calls upon these members of the international community to review their unjust decisions, which will have catastrophic effects on the living conditions of Palestinian civilians in the OPT, and will reflect negatively on advocates of democracy and human rights in the region.