The ascendance of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections has highlighted the difficulties resulting from the massive "development" funding provided by foreign donors. For years, the international community has been funneling vast sums to the Palestinian Authority, hoping for a magical transformation leading to economic growth, self-sufficiency and even peace. While the European Union has kept the findings of its report on this issue a secret, it is clear that the aid has fueled corruption and terror, but very little development.
In response, a new system was devised, and the donors forced the Palestinian Authority to appoint an independent finance minister, but the changes were limited. The funds kept flowing – in part due to the fear of the reactions if the tap were suddenly turned off.
But the victory of Hamas has raised new dilemmas for the main funders – Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and the World Bank. Many donor countries have demanded that Hamas renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist as a condition for continued aid. These terms were rejected by Hamas leaders who realize that many of the donors are reluctant to implement their conditions.
Even the Israeli government is hesitant about cutting the flow of funds, fearing that economic desperation would fuel terror. After some flip-flops, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that the tax funds collected by Israel would go to the Palestinian Authority until Hamas officials took office. But this merely delays the difficult decisions.
In the face of this dilemma, some European diplomats have begun discussing the option of routing development funds through the network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in human rights and humanitarian work.
Unfortunately, this solution is based on wishful thinking, rather than careful analysis. The hundreds of NGOs that function in the region and work with the Palestinians are part of the problem. They have become parties to the conflict, and not neutral engines of development and peacemakers.
MANY OF the international "superpower" NGOs such as Christian Aid, World Vision, War on Want, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have used their multimillion-dollar budgets on political campaigns. They repeat the Palestinian version of history that labels Israel as "colonialist," and were at the forefront of the campaign in the UN to label Israel’s security barrier as the "apartheid wall," while calling for sanctions and boycotts.
In December 2005, following the Israeli disengagement, Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch issued a public letter to President Bush calling for the cutting of US assistance to Israel.
These political and ideological agendas are reinforced through the actions of dozens of local Palestinian and pro-Palestinian NGOs, many of which are financed by European governments, and philanthropies such as the Ford Foundation. Although consistently claiming to promote development and human rights, most of these local NGOs are primarily involved in demonizing Israel.
Among the most dramatic expressions of NGO incitement against Israel took place at the 2001 UN-sponsored Durban conference against "racism and xenophobia." NGO participants in the conference, such as MIFTAH (headed by Hanan Ashrawi), equated Zionism with racism, justified terror as "resistance against occupation," and denounced Israeli defense as a "violation of international law."
Continuing the Durban strategy, the NGO rejectionist rhetoric has grown to include condemnations of Israel’s anti-terror actions in Jenin and elsewhere as "war crimes." Many of these groups, which are members of the Palestinian NGO umbrella organization, are active in leading efforts to impose academic and economic boycotts against Israel (including divestment) in order to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Even relatively "clean" NGOs, that really do use the bulk of their funds for health care, education and development, are often unable to resist at least some anti-Israel propaganda. ANERA, which receives over $9 million annually from USAID, still spends a small part of this large sum to contribute to the Palestinian political campaigns. And the World Bank, which is also relatively careful in trying to give money to Palestinian development projects that actually focus on their claimed objectives, supports an NGO "portal" that pushes more demonization of Israel.
In considering NGOs as alternative channels for funding Palestinian aid while the government is under the control of Hamas, the funding agencies – particularly the government aid groups throughout Europe – appear to be unaware of this reality. But a closer look at these NGOs demonstrates that their activities are often highly inconsistent with claims of promoting development and human rights. If the international community wants to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance without fueling the political conflict, it will have to develop its own organizations and monitoring systems, rather than using the existing network of NGOs.
The writer is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University and the editor of NGO Monitor (www.ngo-monitor.org).