On July 5, 2012, Oxfam International released a 28-page briefing paper, On the Brink, which focuses on the Jordan Valley and is another example of Oxfam’s narrow, politicized advocacy against Israel. [1]

Oxfam’s call for illegal building

One key element of On the Brink is Oxfam’s recommendation that the

international community, donors, and Palestinian and international NGOs should…initiate and support development projects in the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C…and, backed by diplomatic and political support, move ahead with projects even if they have not been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration… (emphasis in original)

This recommendation calls for an explicit violation of international law and jus cogens norms (inviolable law) – including breach of the Oslo Accords that grant Israel responsibility for Area C, and Israel’s general obligation to administer the territories under its control and ensure public safety and order.  The terms of this international treaty were mutually drafted and agreed to by both the Israeli government and the PLO, and guaranteed by European governments and the United States.  It is striking that Oxfam, an organization that claims to respect international law, would explicitly call for its violation.

Oxfam’s suggestion that governments provide “diplomatic and political support” is essentially a call for increasing diplomatic tensions with Israel. Oxfam falsely claims that this would be “in line with the draft recommendations of the EU Heads of Diplomatic Mission report on Area C,” in passing noting that “This recommendation has not yet been formally endorsed by the EU Heads of Missions.”

In fact, the draft EU report never recommends illegal building or violation of international obligations and treaties. More importantly, the EU rejected any such approach in a May 2012 statement, emphasizing that “The EU will engage with the Government of Israel to work out improved mechanisms for the implementation of the donor funded projects for the benefit of the Palestinian population in Area C.”

Myopic analysis

As in previous reports, Oxfam paints a highly misleading picture of the economic situation in the West Bank. Throughout On the Brink, Oxfam argues that the sole impediment to Palestinian development and a flourishing Jordan Valley is Israeli policy: restrictions on Palestinian movement and construction, and building of Israeli settlements.

To this end, Oxfam refers to a highly speculative paper by Itzhak Gal, Adi Ashkenazi, Saeb Bamya, and Shawqi Makhtoob (“The Economic Development of the Jordan Valley”) that, according to Oxfam, estimates “that if Israeli restrictions on Palestinian development were removed, an additional 50 sq/km of the Jordan Valley could be cultivated, potentially adding $1bn a year to the Palestinian economy, or 9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).”

However, Oxfam glosses over Gal et al.’s determination that “large scale urban and agricultural development of the Palestinian Jordan Valley depends on new large water-supply sources, which must be imported from outside the region” (emphasis in original). That is to say, the situation is significantly more complex and uncertain – and dependent on regional and international cooperation, not unilateral actions and (illegal) interventions by NGOs – than portrayed by Oxfam.

Oxfam’s failure to capture the totality of the Gal et al. study is also a reflection of a lack of rigor and a reliance on sources that lack credibility, in order to make a strictly political argument. Oxfam’s footnote does not directly reference the article; instead, Oxfam saw the Gal article in a September 2011 bulletin published by the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy and the anti-Israel political advocacy NGO Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ).


The briefing paper also reflects Oxfam’s departure from a humanitarian mission focused on poverty. Instead, Oxfam has become an active actor and contributor to the ongoing, and tragic, conflict. To the extent that it aims to demonize Israel and generate diplomatic tensions, the publication is part of the “Durban strategy” of isolating Israel internationally.