In 2012, the EU budget alone covered development assistance of 317.9 million euro to the Palestinian territories. This made the West Bank and the Gaza Strip the second largest beneficiary of the EU foreign aid, before Turkey and followed by Afghanistan. The EU is widely known for its best intentions when it comes to human rights, democracy, and fairness, but it seems that Brussels rarely scrutinizes its own policies.
The economic situation in the Palestinian territories is indeed dire and to a large extent defined by its precarious security situation. Moreover, the two parts of the territories are not developed in the same way since the West Bank is more prosperous than the Gaza Strip, which might also partially explain why it is for the most part the latter that gives so much headache to the Israeli, Egyptian and also Western policy makers and security experts. Gauging the level of poverty and its correlation with security is very difficult but World Bank’s most reasonable estimates speak about 16 percent of the population living in extreme poverty.
Given other contributing factors, such as the presence of the seemingly everlasting conflict, frequent power cuts, Islamism, freedom of movement often limited by both Israel and Egypt due to security reasons, as well as fast population growth, the EU likes to focus its attention on the Middle East, though the Palestinians certainly don’t count among the world’s most impoverished nations. Yet, already in 2004, they received the biggest amount of development aid per capita in the world with 324 USD per person, far out-matching even the second Nicaragua with 229 USD per capita annually.
It is no secret that development assistance is often distributed based on political and strategic considerations, and the Middle East is clearly a good example of this complex interplay between development and politics/security. The EU – just like the West as such – seems to feel a moral obligation to solve the “eternal” conflict and re-design the future of the region whose history was dramatically changed as a result of Europe-induced WWII. Also in the context of the contemporary challenge of Islamist extremism and the threat of terrorism, development assistance might be seen as the way to win minds and hearts of the Palestinian people. Yet, thus far it has been without much success.
Hamas has been added on the EU’s blacklist of terrorist organizations in 2003 which brought the flow of EU aid to a halt for some time. Back then, Chancellor Merkel stated that it was “unthinkable” for the EU to continue funding the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority. However, this did not prevent Palestinians from electing Hamas in 2007 to govern the Gaza Strip. Ever since then, Hamas seems to have been focusing more on hatching plans how to destroy Israel rather than on rebuilding Gaza. The EU money is used to build schools but the same schools are then destroyed because Hamas is not interested in accepting a ceasefire with Israel.
Two years ago, the EU broke its promise not to finance Hamas as the organization had officially re-united with Mahmoud Abbas. The EU stated that “it looked forward to continuing its support, including through direct assistance, for a new Palestinian government that should uphold the principle of non-violence”. Unfortunately, “the principle of non-violence” was breached on the day Hamas fired its rockets to Israel in the aftermath of the tragedy in which three Jewish and one Muslim teens were cruelly killed.
When the EU resumed its direct financial assistance to the Gaza Strip two years ago, EU foreign relations spokesperson, Michael Mann, said that “the EU needs to know who will be the [Palestinian] ministers and what will they say.” In 2014, one can ask: Who are in fact their ministers? Who governs the Palestinian territory? The Palestinian people have not only become the primary victim of the Middle East conflict but mainly of the anarchy that defines the “governance” of the Palestinian territory. Their leadership – whoever it is – does far too little to protect and improve their every-day lives – in fact, despite millions of dollars as foreign aid that the West sends to the region, the Palestinian economy keeps shrinking. What is worse though is that the Palestinian leaders are more interested in destroying the lives of its neighbours rather than in building a better future for their own population.