The figures reveal that direct contributions to the Palestinians increased during 2004, maintaining roughly 25% of PA expenditures. One of the factors in this increased support was the establishment of the World Bank Trust Fund in April 2004. This enabled many countries to transfer money directly to the PA, assuming that the World Bank was assessing that the money was not used for illegal activity. To date, the World Bank has not stated this to be one of its functions. Nevertheless, the UK’s governmental instrument for distributing aid – the Department for International Development – finds the World Bank arrangement a particularly useful tool, providing a simple mechanism to bypass its own regulations, which forbid direct budgetary assistance.
Meanwhile, it appears that much of the contributions announced by Secretary of State Rice will not be paid directly to the PA, in part because of concern about past corruption.
Many countries have expressed a desire to help the Palestinian economy. What may appear to be surprising is the relative lack of help from members of the Arab League, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. In fact, the $350m US support to the Palestinian Arabs may be contingent on some 15 Arab states meeting promises amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, which were not honoured in the past. For example, an Associated Press report from Washington noted that Egypt, Libya, Kuwait and Iraq owe the PA over $500 million between them.
It must also be remembered that these figures exclude a vast empire of other international aid on behalf of the Palestinians. For example, a whole host of international charities, individual country delegations and United Nations agencies are active in the Palestinian territories. The most notable is UNRWA, whose annual statutory budget (excluding special projects) is now in excess in excess of $400 million.
Another source of income are the initiatives of international groupings. For example, ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department, has given over €155 million in aid to Palestinians throughout the region since 2000. A further €34 million has been assigned for 2005.
It is necessary to put these statistics into perspective. Reports vary about the total number of Palestinians. The World Bank estimate, which has been challenged as based on incorrect assumptions, allows for around 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Estimates are that the Palestinians have received up to $10 billion in international support since 1993. According to Nigel Roberts of the World Bank, this is ‘...the highest per capita aid transfer in the history of foreign aid anywhere.’
In comparison, a Sky TV report quoting UN sources stated that the Tsunami disaster, which killed around 400,000 people and left tens of millions homeless, has so far raised around $6.3 billion in pledges.
It is been difficult to establish a reliable estimate for the aid given to Sudan, where nearly 2 million are homeless and tens of thousands have been killed. Research indicates a far lower level of support.
How To Help The Palestinians – The Way Forward
The World Bank has, in its reports, made 2 telling points, which give clear road signs as to how the Palestinians can be helped out of the cycle of poverty.
Firstly, they correctly emphasise that international aid is useful but that these sums will not alleviate poverty, even if they are increased very significantly, unless accompanied by significant reforms in the Palestinian administration and economy. The World Bank clearly states that “55% of those who receive emergency assistance are not needy.... 32% of the needy do not receive emergency assistance.” In other words, previous aid has either been misdirected or diverted. Positive, transparent and auditable action must be taken to ensure that new aid does not suffer the same fate. In addition, the economy and society must be opened up.
Secondly, the World Bank points out that poverty can be substantially reduced by acts taken on the ground. The first measure is the lifting of restrictions and closures by the Israelis. As the World Bank acknowledges, this can only happen in full, when the threat of terror is permanently rescinded.