Quarterly Updates for (16 Aug 2016 — 15 Nov 2016)

The AHLC, the chief policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinians, met on 9/19 on the sidelines of the UNGA. The meeting, hosted by UN secy.-gen. Ban Ki-moon and chaired by Norwegian FM Børge Brende, offered the comm. a chance to “take stock of the Palestinian state-building process, and to discuss ways to improve and sustain the Palestinian economy in its effort to maintain the viability of the 2-state solution,” according to a Norwegian Foreign Ministry press release. In addition to congratulating the PA and Israel on their electricity deal and expressing hope that it would lead to “even stronger cooperation” (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above), the AHLC reaffirmed its support for the 2-state solution, called on Israel to “establish a planning regime for Area C” of the West Bank that would allow the Palestinians to “develop their industrial base,” called for increased Gaza reconstruction efforts, and expressed concern “about the diversion and abuse of construction material and other goods entering Gaza,” inter alia.

Before and after the AHLC meeting, the international community released a string of new announcements, with the EU and its mbr.-states particularly active in this regard. On 8/24, the EU and UN unveiled $2.1 m. in projects benefiting Palestinian women, including $1.3 m. to fund international activities opposing Israel’s occupation. The EU made its 2d contribution of the year, €10 m. (approx. $11 m.), on 8/29 to assist with the PA’s allowances to poor Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza, and it contributed (9/5) €28 m. (approx. $31 m.) to help pay the salaries and pensions of PA employees for 8/2016. The EU and PA Ministry of Social Development jointly launched (10/17) a €1.5-m. (approx. $1.7 m.) program for capacity-building in the social services sector in the oPt. Individually, Belgium allocated (9/5) an additional €10.28 m. (approx. $11.47 m.) in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, via a number of NGOs and UN orgs., and according to the Israeli PM’s office (9/6) the Dutch govt. had agreed to aid Gaza with improved water and gas supplies.

UNRWA was also the recipient of some major new international aid directed at the Palestinians. The Europeans again were the most active donors. The EU allocated (10/6) €12 m. (approx. $13 m.) to support the agency’s reconstruction efforts at the Nahr al-Barid r.c. in Lebanon; Belgium pledged (9/28) €7 m. (approx. $7 m.) to the agency’s education and shelter programs across the Middle East; and Italy contributed (9/1) €6.6 m. (approx. $7 m.) to support the core UNRWA programs and services.

Outside Europe, the UAE announced (11/3) a new $15 m. contribution to UNRWA’s education programs in Gaza; Kuwait (10/28) and Norway (10/18) pledged $5 m. and $5.5 m., respectively, to the agency’s emergency appeal for Syria; and Japan contributed (10/9) $4 m. to the agency’s food assistance programs in Gaza for the 5th year in a row.

In a related development, Palestinian sources said (10/25) that Saudi Arabia had been holding back its monthly $20 m. contributions to the PA for the preceding 6 mos., since 4/2016. Neither Riyadh nor Ramallah commented publicly on the suspension, and PA envoys were reportedly unable to ascertain the reason for the change. Unnamed Palestinian officials told Reuters on 10/26 that Saudi Arabia’s move might be attributable to its growing frustration with the stagnant Palestinian national reconciliation process.

Gaza Aid Scandal

At the end of last quarter, Israeli forces had arrested 2 Palestinian employees of organizations that administer international aid in Gaza: Mohammad el-Halabi, the Gaza director of the Christian charity World Vision, and Wahid Abdullah al-Bursh, an official at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Gaza (see Photos from the Quarter, and also JPS 46 [1]). Israel accused both men of diverting aid money or supplies from official disbursement mechanisms to Hamas. Their arrests precipitated an international controversy; both World Vision and the UNDP defended their employees and a number of international diplomats spoke out on their behalf. This quarter, Haaretz reported (8/25) that Western officials had complained about Israel’s failure to provide any intelligence supporting these charges, implying that the Israeli govt. was interested in creating a diplomatic “buzz” rather than achieving justice. “The Israelis’ priorities in this affair are very strange,” a Western diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying. The Israeli govt. categorically denied the charges. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said (8/26) that Israel had, in fact, passed its allies some information on the cases and that more would follow: “The claim that Israel had not updated the donor countries to [sic] World Vision regarding the background of the arrest of the suspects is incorrect.” Furthermore, Israel denied a UNDP request to release al-Bursh, continued litigating both cases, and froze World Vision’s bank accounts, forcing the organization to lay off 120 employees, according to a letter World Vision sent its contractors on 8/29.