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Assistance tied to peace process, two-state solution
By David I. McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer
Washington -- When more than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced following the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War, the United States was among the first countries to help feed and shelter them, beginning a journey together over the past half-century culminating in the road map for Middle East peace.
Today, “the United States continues to work closely with the Israelis and Palestinians to realize President Bush’s vision of two states living side by side in peace and security,” Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, told USINFO.
Despite historical U.S. differences with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and current U.S. concerns with Hamas, the United States has been the single largest aid contributor to the 4.3 million Palestinians. Palestinians are the largest per capita recipients of foreign aid worldwide from all sources, according to the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Today, Palestinians reside across the region in the West Bank and Gaza, Jordon, Lebanon and Syria.
The United States remains the largest single-nation contributor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which was established in 1950 to address the Palestinian’s plight. The United States has provided more than $3 billion in UNRWA donations from 1950 through 2007, and contributed millions more responding to emergency funding appeals over the years. It is also the single largest contributor to the U.N. World Food Programme, providing millions of tons of food assistance for distribution by private nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to thousands of Palestinians living in communities other than those served by UNRWA.
As part of its greater diplomatic engagement in Mideast peace, the United States expanded aid to the Palestinians by funding new humanitarian aid and infrastructure projects, including children’s health programs and clinics, new roads, schools and water systems. The efforts are part of what in 1974 then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called “an investment in peace” that contributed to the 1979 Camp David agreements between Israel and Egypt.
“To some extent, U.S. aid to the Palestinians was an incentive for the Palestinians to even consider entering into negotiations with Israel,” Haim Malka, a research fellow with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies told USINFO. “Aid has always been an important consideration in bringing conflicting parties together.”
With over three decades of relative peace, Schweitzer-Bluhm calls these aid programs, “a tremendous return on our original investment.”
With the creation of the Palestinian Authority and its recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence in the 1993 Oslo Accords, the United States accelerated its support of the Palestinian people yet again, with $1.9 billion in assistance to date -- the largest single-country donor, second in donations only to the European Union.
However, continuing violence and resulting border closures have disrupted the flow of workers and regional trade and worsened living conditions for many families in the Palestinian Territories.
As a result, nearly half of Palestinians live in poverty today and a quarter of the population is unemployed, making U.S.-sponsored programs more vital than ever.
This additional bilateral economic assistance -- an average of $85 million per year -- is delivered from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through private companies and NGOs working in region.
Assistance to the Gaza Strip has been limited to humanitarian aid deliveries through international NGOs, a move which Malka criticized as fostering a perception that the United States seeks to divide the Palestinians rather than assist them in building a better future.
“There’s no question that the U.S. should not fund a Palestinian Authority that is dominated by Hamas, but on the other hand, I think we have to figure out a way to support all the Palestinian people rather than a limited segment of the population,” Malka said.
But officials note that the departure of Hamas from the government also has opened new opportunities on the West Bank, where U.S. assistance also provides educational and economic opportunities, infrastructure and projects to build democratic governance that are the foundation of a “two-state solution.”
“Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice is consulting closely with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert as they engage in ongoing discussions to accelerate the work toward the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Schweitzer-Bluhm said. (See related article.)
Since May 2006, USAID has worked with Palestinian officials to deliver more than $3.9 million in emergency medical assistance, including essential medicines, generators and other needed goods, to Palestinian NGO-run clinics and hospitals.
Hanan, a USAID-sponsored project that focuses on health care for Palestinian mothers and children, has trained 845 health care providers and equipped four specialized maternity hospitals. USAID’s Emergency Water and Sanitation program has prevented disease by bringing clean, reliable water supplies into 15,000 Palestinian homes and sewage systems to 8,000 others though programs such as the Bani Naim water supply system in the southern West Bank.
USAID is helping the Palestinian Authority to build new roads and strengthen its borders to restore trade with Israel, building confidence and economies at the same time. The Qalandia roads to Ramallah, as well as several smaller West Bank road systems already have benefited.
“I think that money for specific infrastructure projects within the Palestinian Territories through USAID have been helpful in helping the Palestinian population at large,” Malka said.
USAID also is supporting the Palestinian Authority’s quest for economic growth by promoting small business and agricultural development and an increase of Palestinian exports through loan programs and technical assistance.
Since 2006, some 10,000 Palestinian agribusinesses, farmers and fishermen have received assistance and training through USAID’s Palestinian Agribusiness Partnership Activity, while the Palestinian Enterprise Development project has formed partnerships with six Palestinian companies to increase export, promote investment and generate new jobs.
Finally, USAID works with State Department entities such as Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Office of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in helping Palestinians to invest in their future through training programs for journalists, scholarships to U.S. universities and training for aspiring civil society organizations that serve as the foundation of a vibrant democratic society.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)