When they complain of donor fatigue, it’s more of a ruse to put Israel to sleep
To borrow a phrase from John F. Kennedy — ask not what the Palestinian Authority has done with the $20 billion it collected from donor nations since 1994. Ask, instead, how the PA plans to spend any future funding.
We know a sizable chunk was diverted to reward terrorists and their families for murder and mayhem committed against Israelis and US citizens. Some $5 billion — about a quarter of the total — came from US taxpayers. Former president Trump turned off the spigot, and Congress passed the Taylor Force Act in 2018 to punish the PA for its misbehavior. European and Arab nations even complained of “donor fatigue” and questioned whether giving further aid was merely throwing good money after bad.
These questions should have been high on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) for Palestine — the formal designation for donor nations that include the US and Israel. They should also be topics of discussion inside a Biden administration considering a restoration of US aid to the PA.
The Biden administration shows some signs of sobering up from America’s spending spree on the PA. Secretary of State Antony Blinken dispatched a lower-level diplomat, Hady Amr, to represent the US at Tuesday’s conference. Amr is deputy assistant secretary for Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
Born in Beirut the same year Israel captured Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six Day War, Amr inhabits the State Department’s Arabist camp, but Axios quoted Israeli officials describing Amr as “pragmatic,” “humane,” and a knowledgeable professional who would rather get things done than engage in political arguments.
Pragmatism has been sorely lacking in an international community whose knee-jerk reaction is to blame Israel first for the wretched failures of the Palestinians.
Before ramping up aid, donor nations —especially America — ought to consult with Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University and author of six books on the Arab world. Brown vividly described a “decayed Palestinian leadership” in a piece he wrote two years ago for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Palestinian leaders and institutions do little policymaking, pursue no coherent ideology, express no compelling moral vision, are subject to no oversight, and inspire no collective enthusiasm,” wrote Brown. “If international donors — particularly European actors and international organizations — shift the focus of assistance from short-term support for a two-state outcome to helping make Palestinian social and political institutions more resilient over the medium and long term, such assistance would likely serve future generations of Palestinians much better.”
Israel maintains an interest in keeping the PA on life support. Just strong enough to ensure that Israel won’t have to reassume control over the Arab population in Judea and Samaria, but weak enough so it can’t threaten Israel’s security — and the safety of more than 800,000 Jews who live there, as well as Jerusalem neighborhoods captured in 1967. More than one-third of “Yesha” (Yehuda and the Shomron) is now chareidi, thanks to dynamic growth in Beitar Illit and Modiin Illit (the former Kiryat Sefer), both situated beyond the Green Line.
Those fast-growing chareidi communities will be direct beneficiaries if the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael–Jewish National Fund (KKL) finalizes a proposal to include areas beyond the Green Line for future land purchases.
Since its founding in 1901, KKL has purchased and developed more than 650,000 acres for residential development, in more than 1,000 communities. KKL still owns some 13 percent of Israel’s available land for development, but has never bought land over the Green Line.
KKL’s directorate voted 6-5 last week to extend their purchases to private land adjacent to established communities in Judea and Samaria. KKL chairman Avraham Duvdevani, nicknamed “Duvduv,” credited the narrow victory to the new, more Orthodox and right-wing makeup of the directorate, made possible by the strong showing of the Eretz Hakodesh slate, led by Rabbi Pesach Lerner, in last year’s World Zionist Organization election.
The vote was predictably criticized by Reform and Conservative groups who called it “reckless and disastrous,” warning that it could spell the end of Reform donations from the Diaspora and endanger the very existence of KKL.
“Fake news,” says Rabbi Pesach Lerner. “KKL receives nothing from the Reform in the USA.”
The final decision on land purchases will come after KKL’s full board of directors convenes sometime after Israel’s March 23 election.
“I don’t believe Duvduv would have done this if he didn’t believe he had the votes,” Rabbi Lerner said, adding that he doesn’t expect the Biden administration to draw a line in the sand over this. “I don’t think they are interested in getting involved other than to make a comment here or there.”
A PA Land Grab
If KKL doesn’t plow ahead, the PA will, as it has for at least the past decade.
While Israel also always gets the blame for creating “impediments to peace” by building settlements, it’s the Arabs who are doing most of the work.
Regavim, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing the illegal seizure of state land, issued a report late last year after comparing aerial photos of the West Bank from 2009 to 2019. The evidence shows that illegal Arab construction in Area C, which is supposed to be under full Israeli military and civilian control, leaped 77 percent. The PA has gobbled up close to 20,000 acres, compared to about 12,000 in 2009.
During the same period, the rate of growth in Jewish settlements, the vast majority of which are legal, rose just 20 percent, from just under 12,000 acres to 14,000.
In a region where facts on the ground carry far more weight than lofty ideas, this is a very worrisome development.
Professor Hillel Frisch, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, contends this is all part of the PA’s master plan, and refutes those who dismiss the Palestinian Authority as a failed entity.
“This is wishful thinking,” Frisch wrote in a report he sent out before the weekend. “To the contrary, the PA is winning one of the most important battles it has ever waged against Israel — the creation of rural and urban infrastructure to consolidate control over territory required to create a state.”
Frisch says an array of EU and UN institutions finance these projects and provide most of the knowhow for the PA’s successful strategic settlement drive.
Many of these institutions were participants in this week’s donor conference. When they complain of donor fatigue, it’s more of a ruse to put Israel to sleep, and considering Israel’s lax reaction to a decade long trend, it’s the Israeli government that needs the wakeup call.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 850)
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