Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More on anti-Israel NGO scandal

Yesterday, I wrote about an article in This Week in Palestine by Kieron Monks that exposed how the NGO industry in the Palestinian Arab territories was a waste of money that only kept the cycle of anti-Israel sentiment alive while not actually helping Palestinian Arabs at all.

Monks took exception to my use of his article. He commented:

As the author of the article it is obviously a critical take on the aid bubble created in Palestine. It has actually been very well received by Palestinians who want a more sustainable economy. It is published in a Palestinian magazine and will obviously not be taken down-

The country is full of freeloaders, everyone should acknowledge that, and NGO culture does not help to resist the occupation-it facilitates it. This article does not seek to score points in the Pal/Israel conflict-so its a misinterpretation for you to use it this way. Seeing EVERYTHING in black & white terms (Israel good/Pal bad or vice versa) is moronic. I hope you have gained insight from my article but it does not prove everyone in the universe is anti-semitic or any other bizarre theories.

FYI-another article I wrote on the subject-think 3D! http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/19/palestine-aid-models-must-change
His earlier article is no less an eye-opener:

Palestine's NGO sector...has become a byword for corruption, incompetence and meaningless job creation. Thousands of NGOs have sprung up, promoting everything from family planning to liberal arts education, bloating the aid industry without delivering long-term benefits.

Naseef Mu'allem, director-general of the Palestinian Centre for Peace and Democracy, revealed that "JICA – the Japanese government aid mission – invested $5m last year, but practically what they spent is $600,000. The rest is given as salaries, accommodation, hotels, retreatment and transportation for the foreign employees here but not for the Palestinians". Without donors thoroughly checking on their investments, this kind of private profiteering has become normal.

Palestinian perceptions of foreign NGOs are revealing. Bir Zeit University's 2008 survey found just 35% of the West Bank population feel they contribute to the development of Palestinian society; 78% said they played some role in reducing human suffering and 55% felt they contribute to reinforcing the Israeli occupation.

According to [Joseph] DeVoir, the combination of these results seems to reveal a perception that NGOs "do not achieve political goals; they facilitate occupation by making it bearable". Certainly NGOs and international agencies have financial motives for sustaining the occupation, without which they could not obtain the funding to combat its effects.

The foreign money flooding into NGOs has entrenched class divisions in Palestinian society. Employment opportunities within them are typically limited to the educated elite class, narrowed further by routine nepotism. In Ramallah, the difference is most apparent with glitzy nightclubs on the doorsteps of refugee camps – the preserve of foreigners and rich Palestinians who live too comfortably to identify with the struggle for independence. Their money has already immunised them against the worst effects of occupation, working in jobs that allow them to cross borders and checkpoints, lessening their incentive to fight the status quo.

Yet Monks also writes:

Individual NGOs have attempted to assert their independence from donors. Many reject USAID funding due to its political demands, which preclude assistance for projects that could benefit people with affiliations to undesirable political groups.

Monks is not upset about aid that gets diverted to terror groups. His view is that this is the choice of the Palestinian Arabs; that the West should not decide or even oversee where their billions of dollars are going - if a percentage goes towards rockets or anti-tank missiles, it is none of the donors' business. He implies that this is how they will gain true independence.

He misses the point.

Israel is not against helping Palestinian Arabs. No one is opposed to them building institutions or getting jobs or improving their economy, in fact, Israel has done more than all the NGOs combined to help them do exactly that.

Obviously Israel is interested primarily in one goal: security. In Israel and the West's view, security comes from a combination of strong PA security apparatus that fights terror and a strong economy that gives people incentive to work and build honorable lives for their families rather than be attracted to extremism. Just as obviously, an independent Palestine cannot exist for long without true peace with Israel, so aid that gets diverted towards Hamas and other terrorist groups is - and should be regarded - even more counterproductive to a Palestinian state than the current economic dependence on foreign aid.

Monks conflates the aid from donors that is meant to weaken the terrorist influence on Palestinian Arab society with a nebulous idea that Westerners want to prolong "occupation." He is only partially right.

The problem is that the goals of the NGOs, the Western donors, Palestinian Arabs and Israel are not congruent.

NGOs, as Monks implies, only want to keep the gravy train running. Their number one concern is staying in business and well-funded. They attract young people who don't care about Palestinian Arab independence or self-sufficiency - their desire is often to pressure and ultimately destroy Israel. Many have no problem with Hamas and Islamic Jihad; in fact, they support their goals implicitly or explicitly. A real Palestinian Arab state at peace with its neighbor is not their goal - a Palestinian Arab state or two that replaces Israel is. (I'm talking about NGOs like the ones that sponsor the "flotillas.")

UNRWA has zero desire to dismantle the camps that exist even within Area A and Gaza. It will not contribute in the least to creating a generation of people who are self-sufficient. It will continue to beg for more and more money, even as it has no rule to take "refugee" status away from someone besides their death. It has, more than anyone else, served to prolong Palestinian Arab misery.

The US wants to see real peace, with an independent Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel the way Canada is alongside the US. Terror groups are antithetical to that desire.

The EU wants what the US wants as well, but is more sympathetic to the idea that the corrupt NGOs can decide where the money should go without as much oversight.

And no one is really looking at a long term strategy that would build a real economy and strong institutions - with the exception of Israel and, ironically, the hated Likud.

The real question is: what do Palestinian Arabs want? If they continue to tolerate and glorify terrorism, then their state will never come to pass. Nor would such a state be desirable.

The problem is that people like Monks believe that statehood, built on artificial but ultimately irrelevant demands like "the 1967 lines" and "Jerusalem" that are orthogonal to the concept of an independent state, is a right that should be granted no matter what form it would take and independent of whether such a state would help or hurt peace in the region.

Monks also fails to notice that all the money going to these corrupt NGOs would be better used to help real countries with real issues of poverty and war, and that the world's obsession with Israel has magnified the importance of "Palestine" way out of proportion to the need. Yes, a significant percentage of the world's obsession with the region is because of modern anti-semitism disguised as anti-Zionism. There is no other explanation that explains why Palestinian Arabs gain such a lion's share of attention from the world even as other Arabs are in far worse shape.

So while it is great that Monks exposes the corruption endemic in the mushrooming NGO industry in the territories, he misses the point. The problem is that all the parties are at cross-purposes and that "Palestine" is not a right but something that must be earned by the Palestinian Arab people themselves - by proving that they can act responsibly and peacefully both within and without.

If a truly peaceful Palestine was in the cards - one where there was no incitement, where Israel is a real partner, where the ordinary people are disgusted by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades, where Jews would be allowed full access to their holy sites without fear of being stoned or shot - then all the other problems would disappear. Ultimately, this is the real issue, and one that neither the NGOs or the Palestinian Arabs or the EU or the UN is willing to address.