Twice a year since 1993, countries have gathered for a meeting to discuss international donor assistance for the Palestinians. The so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) will meet again Thursday in New York City on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly.
Six months have passed since the last meeting and unfortunately, though not at all surprisingly, the committee’s well-intentioned efforts have not changed the downward trajectory of Palestinian lives and futures at all.
Palestinians are among the largest recipients of donor assistance per capita in the world today. Yet despite decades of work, billions of dollars, euros, shekels, and dinars donated, life continues to get worse in Gaza and in what some call the West Bank and others call Judea and Samaria.
Hamas has driven Gaza to a state of utter desperation. With unemployment at nearly 50 percent (the highest in the world), Hamas’ decade-long experiment in governance is an utter failure.
The West Bank has fared better, but efforts there are frustrated by the Palestinian Authority’s self-made budget crisis, its continued diversion of funding to reward terrorists, and an anti-normalization movement that delegitimizes Palestinians who do business with Israel.
Donor countries must ask themselves why they should keep struggling to raise money when everyone can plainly see the Hamas regime and the Palestinian Authority are squandering the opportunities that donor money provides for a better future for all Palestinians.
Just this week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “We won’t deduct one penny from the salaries of our prisoners, martyrs and the injured.”
Is that where donor countries want their limited tax dollars to go? Many of the recipients of these salaries murdered, or attempted to murder, Israelis in terrorist attacks (or the money is given to the murderers’ families if the murderer has died).
Peace requires that we acknowledge the basic reality of the situation on the ground, where policies have worked, and where they have failed.
There is no need to rehash the conventional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a path that has been taken year after year. But undoubtedly, many of the speakers at the AHLC meeting Thursday will make the same political speeches, with the same tired points, that will lead to absolutely nothing.
The conventional approach has brought us no closer to a final peace agreement. It has not ensured the security of the people of Israel. It has not delivered the Palestinians the dignity and prosperity they deserve. And ultimately, it has led to the Israelis and Palestinians being let down again and again.
We cannot afford another quarter-century of overpromising and under-delivering. We need a new approach. Rather than recycling the same policies and talking points that have brought us no closer to peace, we have looked at the reality on the ground with fresh eyes and in a realistic manner.
Clearly, none of our financial assistance is getting the Israelis and Palestinians closer to a peaceful solution to their long conflict.
Each of the donor countries has limited assistance available to provide to Palestinians. When it comes to aid from the United States, we have determined that our aid dollars could provide more benefit to other parts of the world. We will not continue to invest in temporary solutions that only prolong the cycle of suffering and violence.
In June we laid out an economic plan that would invigorate the Palestinian economy as well as the surrounding region if we achieve a peace agreement. The Palestinian Authority boycotted our workshop and tried to stop others from attending. When some brave Palestinians attended they were bullied, threatened and had their businesses confiscated.
Yet for a donor conference – where money is given without expectation for a return or controls to ensure maximum impact – the Palestinian Authority will attend in force. It is time to demand more of the Palestinian leaders.
This past week I met with some Palestinians and they were exceedingly clear that they want investment and not donations. They want real opportunity, a real economic future. They want this now. They expressed serious gratitude about our efforts. Their expressions of gratitude, friendship and support of our efforts were extremely moving to me.
The many Palestinians I meet want the opportunities we are seeking for them. They may disagree with some (in some cases all) of our political positions and policies, but they understand we are also trying to improve their lives.
Palestinians deserve greater dignity, greater opportunity and greater freedoms, none of which will be accomplished through maintaining the status quo of donations. It won’t help in the West Bank and it certainly won’t help in Gaza.
I’ve looked in the eyes of the courageous Palestinians who met with me this week and over the past year – in some cases at the risk of imprisonment or worse. They deserve better and they deserve more.
So on behalf of the many Palestinians whom I’ve met with and have developed deep relationships with, I want to ask the donor countries the hard question these Palestinians would ask if they were able to publish this op-ed with me: “Can donor countries be bold enough to let the Palestinian people take a step forward, or will donor countries sentence them to more of the same?”
It’s time to help Palestinians live better lives. And in that process, hopefully we will also achieve peace.