April 17, 2006
On March 15, former World Bank president and current Quartet
Middle East envoy James Wolfensohn warned Congress that unless stepped up
Western aid was delivered to the Palestinian people, cutting off funds to the
Palestinian Authority would result in "chaos in the streets."
"I do not believe you can have a million starving
Palestinians and have peace," Wolfensohn said with his gift for biting
The following day, the Gaza Strip ran out of flour, due to
months of Israeli border closures.  The day after that there was no bread in
Gaza. Then sugar, rice and other staples began to disappear from the shelves.
For an imprisoned population of 1.5 million people, two-thirds of whom make
less than $2 a day, it was a disaster. 
The following week, the first cases of deadly H5N1 bird flu
were confirmed in the Gaza Strip. The resulting mass cullings of poultry dealt
another severe blow to the meager and dwindling Gazan diet. [4,5]
On March 31, an EU mission declared the food crisis
"serious" and found that it was largely caused by Israel’s relentless border
closures.  A group of United Nations relief organizations warned on April 4
that the Gaza Strip is "on the verge of
a humanitarian disaster." 
Two days later, the US Congress addressed this looming
catastrophe by voting to terminate the last remaining morsel of America’s
financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
To make sure not one red cent of US taxpayer money winds up
in the hands of Hamas, Congress also stopped all indirect aid to the occupied
Palestinian territories, cutting some $240 million in development and
assistance projects. 
At the same time, US humanitarian assistance to Palestinians
was increased 57 percent, to $287 million.  That works out to an extra $105
million, which, if actually delivered as direct aid, would amount to $23 for
every Palestinian, enough to maintain their present poverty level for about 12
Secretary of State
Rice told a congressional budget hearing, "One thing we are reviewing is how we
can even increase our humanitarian assistance because we don’t want to send a
negative message to the Palestinian people about their humanitarian needs."
In other words, the
additional pittance is still on the drawing board, yet we are determined to cut
off all other aid immediately. It is no more than what Ms. Rice implies; a
presumably non-negative "message to the Palestinian people about their
humanitarian needs." She needn’t have bothered. It’s fair to say the
Palestinian people have already got the message.
The plan is all too
clear. We will subject the Palestinians to an indefinite period of increasing
impoverishment, hunger, chronic malnutrition, escalating unemployment,
financial isolation, and social and political chaos, and at some point on the
downward curve of this disaster our increased humanitarian assistance will make
its way to Palestine, where it may help keep a few people alive.
That is our response to what most observers agree was the
fairest, most transparent election ever conducted in the Arab Middle East. 
The EU, determined to maintain good relations with Israel
and the US, moved in lockstep with Washington to end its own aid to the PA,
which had been roughly twice the US amount. The Europeans’ promise to boost
their humanitarian aid is a somewhat more credible prospect than the vapor on
offer from the US, but it is still far short of what will be required to keep
Palestine afloat. 
European diplomats were anxious to claim that their
termination of assistance was not aimed at the Palestinian people. But Dutch
foreign minister Ben Bot removed the sugar coating and told the truth: "The
Palestinian people have opted for this government, so they will have to bear
the consequences." 
Consequently the first fully democratic government of the
Palestinian Authority is now living from hand to mouth, unable to make its next
payroll despite an emergency grant of $80 million from Saudi Arabia and other
Gulf states.  The financial collapse of the occupied territories is
beginning and may, as some experts fear, snowball out of control. 
The World Bank and the UN have been warning for months that
the financial collapse of the PA could unleash an unprecedented wave of
internal chaos in the occupied Palestinian territories. There is concern that
if the security forces go unpaid they may begin to dissolve into the various
militant factions, taking their weapons (such as they are) with them. [16,17]
The World Health Organization, noting that 57 percent of all
health workers are paid by the (now bankrupt) Palestinian Health Ministry, is
warning that, as the Daily Star put it, "the public health system in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip could enter a 'rapid decline’ toward 'possible collapse.’"
Yet Israel has once again closed the vital Karni crossing
into Gaza, in another violation of its agreement last November with the US and
the Palestinians. Washington remains silent, perhaps because it also had no
intention of honoring the pact. 
Instead, our government encourages Israel to tighten its
stranglehold on a barely breathing economy. It seems likely that at least
200,000 people in Gaza are now going to bed hungry every night. More than half
are under the age of 18.
This is the kind of diplomacy that is supposed to stop
Here’s how Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon’s former chief of
staff and closest advisor, described the policy to a conclave of top Israeli
defense, intelligence and foreign ministry officials: "It’s like an appointment
with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die."
According to Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz, "the participants reportedly rolled with
Yet Palestinians are dying, and will die in greater and
greater numbers, from lack of medical care, lack of immunity due to chronic
malnutrition, and lack of sanitation due to collapsing public services.
But that is not enough. Perhaps only photos of grossly
emaciated children and hard evidence of death by starvation would be
sufficiently sensational to make us question the morality of destroying the
economy of an already malnourished land. Would we also ask whether our
termination of aid to a destitute people for political purposes was a case of
collective punishment, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions?
Apparently a critical piece of information was left out of
our recent (inept) campaign to promote democracy in the Middle East. It was
never mentioned that if Arabs used this wonderful system to elect the wrong
people, they could face an externally imposed economic disaster.
The Palestinians’ latest catastrophe shamefully reveals one
of the ulterior motives behind Washington’s "democratization" agenda: Democracy
will make Arabs accountable for their politics.
Arabs in non-democratic states have always been
fundamentally beyond the political control of the United States and Israel. For
pro-Israel neoconservatives and their allies, this is an unacceptable
Democracy is the answer. It sounds good and discourages
objection. And in the corrupted, trap-door form these people have in mind,
democracy will "liberalize" Arab economies, exposing them to foreign predation.
It will shatter traditional political cultures and induce periods of chaos that
they expect to manipulate to their own ends. And, as an instrument of
diplomacy, democracy will saddle Arabs, as individuals and as groups, with
whatever responsibilities the self-appointed 'masters of democracy’ care to
assign to them.
Our "Arab democracy" turns out to be a kind of electoral
Russian roulette (with two chambers loaded), in which voters leave the ballot
booth wondering whether they have elected a successful government or consigned
their nation to diplomatic isolation and economic siege.
Our warlords in Washington have joined Israel as an equal
partner in its war against the Palestinians, delivering an economic knockout
blow to supplement Israel’s overwhelming military force. We will starve women
and children in order to overturn the results of a free and fair election, or,
failing that, to force dramatic political concessions from an occupied people.
For us, democracy has become little more than a bedtime
story we read to hostage nations, just before we put them to sleep by
dismemberment or starvation.
1) Quartet envoy
warns of chaos if PA not helped, YNet News, 3/15/2006
Strip out of Flour, Ma'an News, 3/16/2006
3) Gaza rations
food as Israel cuts supplies, The Guardian, 3/22/2006
4) Bird flu discovered
in Gaza Strip, BBC, 3/22/2006
causes protein shortage in Gaza, Jerusalem Post, 4/5/2006
Union mission visits Gaza Strip; says food crisis is 'serious' due to Israeli
closures, International Middle East Media Center, 3/31/2006
"Gaza on verge of a humanitarian disaster", International Middle East Media
8) US to cancel
$240m aid over Hamas government, Times of London, 4/8/2006
looking to increase Palestinian humanitarian aid, Ha'aretz, 4/5/2006
American perplexity needed on Hamas, Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, 2/1/2006
12) EU suspends
aid to Palestinian Authority, The Guardian, 4/11/2006
halts Palestinian aid, AlJazeera, 4/11/2006
Authority confirms it cannot pay March salaries, Ha'aretz, 4/9/2006
15) Palestinians feel
pinch, Christian Science Monitor, 4/12/2006
Bank official: Palestinians on verge of bankruptcy, By Akiva Eldar,
Israel's tightened security exacting heavy humanitarian toll, Ha'aretz,
report sounds alarm for Palestinian healthcare system, The Daily Star,
Re-close Karni Commercial Crossing and Impose a Siege on the Palestinian
Civilian Population in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights,
20) As the
Hamas team laughs, Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, 2/19/2006
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