Cash and the Palestinians
The G-8 countries have promised $3 billion for the Palestinians to build the infrastructure of the Palestinian state and to support a peace process. This is a significant commitment that should send a clear message to both Israel and the Palestinians that the international community means business. Given the financial crunch hitting most of the industrialized nations today – with rising fuel prices, billions of dollars being spent on tsunami aid and further billions being spent on cleaning up after the war in Iraq – a new international financial commitment should be seen as a sign that the most important industrialized nations want, finally, to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict behind them.
If money was the only problem facing the resolution of the conflict, this would be very good news. Unfortunately it will take more than money to enable Israel and Palestine to implement the road map and fulfill the Bush vision. Money can help if it is used wisely and spent on laying the foundations for Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian Authority has already seen large sums of money sent by the international community, but there is little evidence of all of those billions. In order for the new international aid to reap the desired fruits, the money must be accompanied by political commitments.
First, the Palestinians themselves must undertake to really implement all the obligations placed on them by the international community. The PA must complete the unification of the security forces and the illegal militias must finally be dealt with. There can be no progress in the process of reaching statehood if this is not done.
Part of the international aid should be spent on creating a social security retirement fund for those officials and officers who should be sent home. Additional funds should be spent on whatever it will take to implement law and order on the streets of Palestine. Achieving internal stability must be the first order of the day and there can be no internal stability when violence remains a political option. One authority holding a monopoly on the use of force and dedicated to arriving at peace by peaceful means is the only recipe that can bring about internal stability.
Israel must demonstrate that it is a partner to the international efforts.
One of the main reasons so much of the international aid money's impact was erased was the closures that Israel placed on the Palestinians during the Oslo years. The losses to the Palestinian economy from those hundreds of days of closure were equal to all of the funds spent by the international community.
In addition, Israel's destruction of the physical infrastructures in the Palestinian territories during the past five years far surpassed the total amount of money the international community spent on building those projects.
This is not to say Israel was not provoked by the Palestinians into reoccupying the Palestinian territories, particularly after the round of terror of March-April 2002. The massive destruction of public property and infrastructure, however, was not necessary and can be perceived as no more than collective punishment. There were diplomats involved in the aid program to the Palestinians who at the time encouraged their governments to issue legal suits against the government of Israel for that wanton destruction.
Israel has now taken $50 million from the US government that had been allocated as part of the US aid package to the Palestinians for the purpose of upgrading the infrastructures of passages between Palestine and Israel. Those funds are being spent on container-sized X-ray machines and other hi-tech hardware that should speed up the movement of people and goods. This development could have a positive impact and should be good for Palestinian economic development. However, the best technology in the world will not help one single container move through a checkpoint if the soldier at the gate has an attitude problem.
DURING THE first year of Oslo I witnessed an Israeli officer physically abusing a Palestinian laborer at the Erez checkpoint. I called the Prime Minister's Office to report what I was witnessing. One of the PM's advisers responded: "But that's against our policy!"
Assuming we plan to pursue a policy that allows Palestinian goods to move through the borders after appropriate security checks, those who hold the keys to the gates must be instructed to move efficiently and expeditiously. In a normal situation there would be incentives to move as many trucks through the passages as physically possible. Transit and trade is big business. The Israeli-Palestinian situation is anything but normal, and even with the best intentions there is little reason to believe normalcy will be the order of the day.
It would be more than helpful if the international community decided that together with its $3 billion, G8 personnel would be sent to guard the investments of those funds. International security experts with experience and expertise in supervising other problematic international borders would certainly be a good investment at Erez, Karni and Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Other trained and experienced personnel from the G8 countries supervising the security at Gaza international airport could provide the security guarantees Israel needs for the airport to be reopened. Funds could be spent on foreign professionals so there wouldn't have to be a customs border between Gaza and Israel.
Investments in infrastructure projects are essential for any chance of economic development in Gaza and the West Bank. A passage between these two territories must be opened so goods and people can traverse with as much unimpeded movement as possible. At first it must be possible for goods to flow between Gaza and the West Bank. A short rail link from Gaza's Erez crossing to Zikim, south of Ashkelon, would enable Palestinian goods to be transported anywhere in Israel and the West Bank. A rail link from Kiryat Gat to Tarkumiyeh, near Hebron, of some 25 km. could enable a direct link to the West Bank.
Checked and sealed Palestinian containers could be lifted onto trains and transported to the port of Ashdod and Ben-Gurion Airport to markets inside Israel, as well as directly to the West Bank. Such a wise investment would bear fruit in a very short time. Arrangements for the movement of people between the two territories could be made once these arrangements had proven themselves.
Without the partnership between money and politics the Palestinian territories will remain a bottomless pit for international aid. The international community's good will is being demonstrated largely because they still believe that the election of Mahmoud Abbas and the bold decision of Ariel Sharon to disengage have created a window of opportunity. The ray of hope is still shining through that window, but without real progress on the ground it will dim and the window close.
This is serious business. The chances of success remain dependent on what the leaders do. This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1121048976798&p=1006953079865
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