The new International Development Secretary Priti Patel has frozen a transfer of £25 million out of the £72 million annual aid to Palestine – until the conclusion of an investigation into whether any of the money has been passed to the families of prisoners.
This follows questions from MPs from Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel targeting the UK’s aid programme to Palestine, which goes roughly in thirds to the United Nations refugee agency, the Palestine Authority and co-existence projects.
Both DfID and the Palestine Authority say none of the money from UK taxpayers is used to pay welfare benefits to prisoners’ families, but the MPs argue that UK aid allows them to use more of their own income to make these payments.
There are four answers to this:
The first is humanitarian. Welfare payments go to families of prisoners, not prisoners. In answer to similar questions former aid minister Sir Alan Duncan aid: “The PA operates social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments to households who have lost their main breadwinner. I hope you will also agree that dependent spouses or children should not be held responsible for the crimes of family members, or forced to live in poverty as a consequence”.
The second is also humanitarian. Israeli prisons refuse to provide adequate food and shelter for their 6,000 Palestinian prisoners forcing them to rely on food and clothing brought by relatives who in turn have no income. As the Jerusalem-based civil rights organisation Addameer says: “The military prison authority provides detainees with basic food rations once a month. The provided rations do not meet necessary daily requirements, both in terms of quality and nutritional value.”
The third is political. The Palestinian Authority is answerable to Palestinians and it has no intention of abandoning the families of prisoners. As Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations explained to MPs on the Commons International Development Committee: “The idea that you could have, at this stage in the conflict, a Palestinian Authority that does not treat its prisoners in a certain way, I do not think can exist with the reality we are in.
“If you asked the Northern Ireland warring parties to disavow the people of violence at the wrong moment in that process, one would have undermined that process…
“We de-Palestinianise the PA at our own peril, because the less credibility and legitimacy we impose on it vis-a-vis its own public, the less useful it is, to be honest, for the main purpose it is designed for, which is to be a vehicle for making a peace deal.” Read the Committee report
The 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails include many of the leading Palestinian politicians, such as Marwan Barghouthi, and other elected members of the Palestinian parliament.
The fourth is economic. Palestine would not need any aid from the UK or anywhere else if Israel lifted their restrictions on the Palestinian economy.
As the aid minister Sir Alan Duncan said in March 2014: “A 2011 International Monetary Fund report estimated that without movement and access restrictions the Palestinian economy would be 78% larger in terms of GDP a year, amounting to about $6.3 billion. That would remove its dependence on aid.”
Palestinians are entrepreneurial and their economy is very resilient in spite of the crippling burden of the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli theft of land, water and resources in the West Bank, which alone was estimated by the World Bank to cost $3.4 billion a year or 35% of Palestine’s GDP.
The UK’s Palestinian aid budget is a subsidy not so much to Palestinians as to the Israeli government whose obligation it is under international law to shoulder all the costs of occupation.
Sources in the British Foreign Office said: “We are not stopping aid to the Palestinian Authority overall, just delaying it to a date when we know our money won’t be going to people who do nothing in return for it.”
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