In the weeks following Operation Cast Lead, Israel's air and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008 and 2009, the rich oil sheikdom of Qatar and other Persian Gulf governments vowed to dig deep into their desert robes to help Palestinians rebuild. Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, pledged $40 million in February, 2009, to fund humanitarian relief operations by five U.N. agencies, including $30 million for U.N. humanitarian operations in Gaza and an additional $10 million for a U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) set up to respond to humanitarian emergencies anywhere in the world. The office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon greeted the pledge with effusive praise.We once again see how deep Arab commitment is to helping out Palestinian Arabs in their everyday lives.
But the money has never arrived.
U.N. officials say that their repeated requests to Qatar to honor its commitment have been met with vague responses indicating that it is facing what it has described as "unforeseen circumstances." Steve O'Malley, the chief of the CERF secretariat, said simply: "We followed up with the Qataris and they are following up back in Doha."
The Qatari mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Qatar's Gaza pledge illustrates one of the truisms about international aid: Faced with conflicts or natural disasters that capture the world's attention, states make generous pledges. But getting them to actually cut a check requires a sustained diplomatic effort by the United Nations. The problem has been particularly acute in the Arab world, where governments have consistently fallen short of their commitments to the Palestinians, according to U.N. officials.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which is responsible for assisting more than 4.7 million Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East, has been hit especially hard as a result of a global financial crisis.
The agency is facing an $80 million funding shortfall, and will not be able to pay salaries beyond November, according to UNRWA officials. The agency's largest donors -- the United States, Britain and the European Commission -- have continued to fund UNRWA, providing 95 percent of its operating budget, according to agency officials.
But they say efforts to convince Arab governments to meet their commitments have fallen short. "UNRWA faces an unprecedentedly serious financial situation this year," Andrew Whitley, the director of UNRWA's New York office, told Turtle Bay. "Certain donors have not kept up with their promises while others have been pressured to cut back because of the financial crisis."
"Our biggest donors have maintained, and in some cases increased, their contributions slightly," Whitley added. "But our efforts to broaden the donor base to non-traditional donors, particularly Arab governments, have not borne fruit."
In September, at a conference of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo, Filippo Grandi, UNRWA's commissioner general, said that Arab countries needed to address the crisis or they would face the prospect of greater political insecurity in the region.
It is paper-thin.