Is the money we are giving Palestinian leaders helping?

This is a guest post by Stephen Hoffman

Over the last 20 years there have been many stories of where the money goes that international donors give out to Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza. Whilst I would love to tell you that the money is spent on the wellbeing of the Palestinian people it is often spent on Palestinian officials, their corrupt habits and often worse terrorism.

For instance, in the last 20 years the Americans have invested $4.5 billion to promote Palestinian democracy in the West Bank and Gaza, as revealed by Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah during a meeting with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. $4.5 billion is probably a conservative estimate as it excludes the significant amount of money which has gone into the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) coffers since its creation in 1994, with Palestinian economists estimating the PA has received around $25 billion in financial aid from the U.S. and other countries since then. In 2013, the level of corruption was so bad that even the EU admitted that the PA had somehow lost 2.5 billion euros in aid from 2008-2012.

In terms of success bringing about democracy through the money lavished on it, the PA is right up there with attempts to bring back the dodo from extinction. It is an incredibly naive enterprise considering there is little chance of free assembly in the West Bank or Gaza, an independent judiciary is not on the cards any time soon, press freedom seems a pipe dream, and a functioning democratic Parliament is non-existent. That’s not to exclude, at the top of the Palestinian pyramid, leaders who seem as likely to relinquish power democratically as a baby is likely to stop wanting milk.

Palestinian leaders with this money could have ploughed it into public services, a robust judiciary and schemes to help improve the Palestinian economy and the lot of the average Palestinian. Sadly this has not happened; Abbas and Arafat have preferred to impoverish their people and crack down when they step out of the line, whilst using the money they have been given to fund their lavish lifestyles for themselves and their political cronies.  This is literally robbing the Palestinian people of the money they deserve.

The situation our money led to, created a situation ripe for Hamas who presented themselves as the non-corrupt alternative to the PA, who would bring an end to the tide of the corruption. When Hamas was elected it had far more to do with the corrupt Palestinian Authority than anything to do with wanting to destroy Israel. The Hamas demand for the end of financial corruption in 2007 was a clarion call that got them elected and it was Western money used for this corruption which created this resentment and led to the election of Hamas. Sadly Hamas doesn’t have the interests of the Palestinian people in Gaza in their minds either. It’s unsurprising that many of the millionaires and billionaire in Gaza are Hamas operatives, and pipes which could be used for construction have been used to make rockets, helping turn Gaza into a terror training camp, once again at the expense of the Palestinians. They are even more brutal than the PA when it comes to dealing with dissent, and have at times strung up on lampposts those seen as challenging their iron grip on power in Gaza.

The world led by the U.S. have treated Palestinian leaders like adults who can be trusted to spend the money in a way that will enrich the lives of the Palestinians and create a nascent flourishing democracy. Instead money has been spent on their own enrichment and the continued funding of weapons and the training of terrorists. Perhaps it’s time that the USA and all the other international donors realised that current Palestinian leaders have shown they treat the money they receive from the international community like a feckless child would. Then maybe we could start holding the PA accountable by demanding loudly and clearly that the money that has been given to bring the democracy the Palestinian people deserve to go to its intended source.

If they cannot deal with this level of accountability then led by the U.S. we have to turn off the money tap showing that we won’t continue to put up with this level of corruption which is furthering Palestinian misery and certainly not being used for its intended purposes of the building of a democratic civil Palestinian State.

Stephen Hoffman is the Director of Middle East Studies for Parliament Street and tweets at @thehoff102