Now that the wait is over and the United States has at long last announced its “Deal of the Century” with the grand title “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” it is time to take stock of international donors and the purpose of aid in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). This is because of the important role that aid and donors have played in the past and the present, and quite likely will play in the future.
International aid has been an important part of the political economy of the peace process and the OPT since the signing of the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (otherwise known as the Oslo Accords). It has played a central role in both a positive and a negative sense. On the positive side, international aid has helped to build and support infrastructure, social and medical services, as well as governing institutions and civil society organizations in the OPT. On the negative side, it has interfered with Palestinian politics because some donors have supported certain political elites over others, it has been the core cause of the NGO-ization of Palestinian civil society, and it has helped to entrench a business elite in the OPT whose interests are intertwined with (and dependent on) the occupier, Israel. These practices and experiences are common to the use and outcome of international aid in other conflict and development contexts, because international aid is a technology of global governance used to pursue the dual goals of stabilization and “development.” Elsewhere, I have argued that international aid is a form of developmental counterinsurgency designed to extend, uphold, and police an international system created by, and structured with, colonial relations of power. When it comes to the OPT, these colonial relations of power are even more visible.
In the context of the OPT (and indeed in the whole of Mandate Palestine), initially British colonial rule and then Israeli settler colonialism has created the context under which Palestinians live and struggle for rights and self-determination. The international operation of power in the region has supported Israel as a key ally–first THROUGH the colonial powers (Britain and France), then THROUGH the global hegemon (the United States). Palestinians, without an ally able or willing to stand against these great powers, have been forced to continue their struggle or accept the principles and parameters enforced by others.
In the late 1980s, the goal of liberating the whole of Mandate Palestine was abandoned by the national movement in favor of creating a Palestinian state on the lands occupied after 1967. There is much to be said about the Oslo Accords, i.e., whether it was the first step to sovereign statehood (as argued by Yasser Arafat) that soured after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, or whether it constituted a “Palestinian Versailles” (as argued by Edward Said) and was merely a new phase of Israel’s colonial control. This article will not explore these debates for reasons of space. But it is now absolutely clear that sovereign Palestinian statehood will not be an outcome of the Oslo framework. The occupation and colonization of the 1967 lands has become a permanent set of arrangements, and the most powerful third-party actor, the United States, has upended the international consensus regarding the goal of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital (regardless of any rhetoric to the contrary). Self-governed enclaves and an al-Quds based in Abu Dis, as proposed by the Trump Peace Plan, is neither what the PLO signed up for, nor what the Palestinians more generally want, nor even what other international actors deem to be an acceptable settlement. While the European Union has expressed some verbal discontent with the US plan, it has failed to find a common position, and so it is largely business as usual. This also applies to the majority of Arab donors, who continue to give huge amounts of aid, but do not challenge the current framework. The Arab Peace Initiative is still on offer, but because the boycott weapon has de facto been dropped and trade relations with Israel have become normalized, there is no real incentive for Israel to consider it. Meanwhile, attempts to have the Trump Peace Plan condemned at the United Nations have been shelved for now. The “Deal of the Century” therefore signals the end of the pretense of a two-state solution. I say “pretense” because the de facto demise of the two-state solution happened many years ago.
Taking this context as its starting point, this article focuses on two questions. The first is directed to the donors: what broader purpose will aid assistance to the OPT now serve given the gap between the policy rhetoric of statehood (and economic development) and the political reality of non-sovereign enclaves (and de-development)? The second is directed to the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian civil society groups: in the absence of a move towards sovereign statehood, which type of aid policies are helpful and which are harmful? The main issue that drives this article is whether there is another aid model and agenda more appropriate for the current context which can support Palestinian sumud, or whether aid is only ever going to assist in the persistence and entrenchment of the colonial present. Building on the important work of Dalia Association, al-Shabaka, and Palestine Aid Watch, I propose some ideas for how Palestinians could start to build a strategy to insist on aid policies that do not harm their struggle for freedom from oppression.
Understanding Aid in the Context of Settler Colonialism
The past twenty-six years have witnessed an acceleration of Israel’s settler-colonial practices under the veneer of an internationally sanctioned peace process. In the absence of political or economic pressure applied to Israel to allow a sovereign Palestinian state to emerge, it was inevitable that international aid would create structures and a political economy that worked in tandem with, rather than in opposition to, Israel’s rule. Aid is a stabilization and “development” strategy, and in the OPT these were pursued and undertaken in the context of Israeli settler colonialism because these structures of power and control were allowed to persist. This meant supporting Palestinian elites and governance institutions that inevitably were heavily embedded in (and reliant upon) structures and processes dominated and controlled by Israel. Western donors have been the most important and influential given that they supported and funded the structures and institutions created to support the Oslo Accords. Other donors, while often important financially (particularly those from the Arab Gulf), were never as important politically, and have not been able to fully influence the situation, particularly in a context where the most important donor and third-party actor has been the United States. As the sole global hegemon left after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States has dominated the Middle East for the past thirty years. While this may be about to change, the United States remains the only significant player in terms of the Israel-Palestine situation, with Russia and China, for instance, not currently playing any real role. European donors have also tended to follow US strategies or have not challenged them in any significant way. It is important to state this because on occasion, illusions have been harbored that European (or other) donors will develop a different strategy or could become an alternative “peace broker.” While it is questionable whether this was ever an option, it certainly is not in the current context. European donors will not voluntarily use economic or diplomatic pressure against Israel, either because of their own connections with Israel, or because they want to keep on the right side of the United States, particularly while there is such a volatile president in the White House who uses aid and trade relations to marginalize and control those who disagree with him.
During the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the United States endorsed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state. But after 2017, the United States under the presidency of Donald J Trump dropped this end-goal and instead lifted all obstacles and restrictions to Israel’s settler-colonial ambitions between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and used a number of measures in an attempt to force Palestinians to accept their marginalization. First, the United States ended its objections to Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, and no longer regarded Israeli settlements in the OPT to be illegal. The Trump Peace Plan further codified this. Second, the United States ended its economic aid to the OPT and humanitarian aid to UNRWA in 2019. Third, the United States has sought to discredit and isolate the PLO diplomatically by shutting its mission in Washington DC and actively campaigning against the PLO’s attempts to have the International Criminal Court rule on the situation in the OPT, and now in the United Nations. Fourth, the United States has extended its counterterrorism measures through the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act and the Taylor Force Act, which forced the Palestinian Authority/State of Palestine to refuse any remaining US aid, including to its security forces, in order to avoid legal liability in US courts. However, Israeli-Palestinian security coordination under the command of the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) remains in place for the time being. And fifth, the United States continues to try to buy off Palestinians with yet another “economic peace” initiative via a fifty-billion-dollar investment proposal (the economic part of the Trump Peace Plan), introduced at a June 2019 conference in Bahrain. However, the conference had no Palestinian representation in attendance, and the initiative does not have the support of the Palestinian leadership.
Other donors continue to supply aid for the purposes of humanitarianism, security, and (some modest) economic development, but some of them also impose anti-terror clauses that ban Palestinian organizations from working with (or involvement with) anyone from groups on proscribed terrorist lists, which (depending on the donor) could include members of most Palestinian political parties apart from the ruling Fatah faction. Global counterterrorism measures have also provoked bank “de-risking” strategies which has led to a funding crisis for Palestinian NGOs. Furthermore, under pressure from pro-Israel lobbies as well as Israel itself, some Western donors are introducing restrictions against aid recipients that express support for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Many donors, therefore, seek to restrict Palestinian political behavior and room for maneuver in a context that looks very bleak for Palestinian self-determination. It is likely that, now with the blessing of the United States as endorsed in the Trump Peace Plan, Israel will annex the Jordan Valley and its large Jewish settlements in the West Bank; it is just a matter of when. There is now no talk of Palestinian sovereignty, just more “self-governance” in the enclaves in which the Palestinian Authority/State of Palestine currently operates. The parts of East Jerusalem on the “Israeli side” of the Separation Wall will continue to undergo processes of “Judaization” cut off from the rest of the OPT economically and politically. Abu Dis, on the “Palestinian side” of the Separation Wall, will be designated the Palestinian capital. Meanwhile, Gaza will remain under the blockade that has crippled its economy and imprisoned its people since 2006. Indeed, the grim situation in Gaza perhaps is a prophecy for the future of the Palestinian-governed enclaves in the West Bank.
By its recent actions, the United States has smashed apart the rhetorical consensus on the two-state solution with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. It has stripped away the pretense of an end-game acceptable to the weakest party. But the truth is that this end-game was de facto smashed a long time ago. There is disagreement on which date or event constitutes the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution, but the failure of the 2011/12 “Palestine 194” campaign for full membership of the United Nations is certainly significant, because the PLO could not count on enough states to support its bid for sovereign recognition, despite international agencies (even the deeply conservative IMF) confirming that the Palestinian Authority was ready for statehood. But sovereignty is an absolute principle–it cannot be earned–and so the State of Palestine (as the Palestinian Authority has rebranded itself since 2013) has not been recognized as such, and therefore it does not have access to the protections given to sovereign states under international law. If the PLO could not get enough support in 2011/12, it is even less likely now given that Israel has increased its bilateral relations with more African and Asian states, and the United States is being more firmly partisan. This was confirmed on 11 February after a resolution against the Trump Plan was withdrawn from the UN Security Council when it became clear that the Palestinian Authority/State of Palestine could not ensure the nine out of fifteen votes required to secure its passage and necessitate a US veto.
The generosity of donors has therefore been steadily eroding since those heady days of international support for “Fayyadism” and “state-building”: budget support to the Palestinian Authority/State of Palestine has declined by fifty percent since 2013, and there has been a sharp decline in aid in general since 2016. While some actors are still using the language of statehood (particularly the European Union, the United Nations, and the State of Palestine) it makes no sense to continue to believe the claim that aid is being provided to create the foundations for a sovereign Palestinian state and thus a two-state solution to the conflict. It is time to insist on more accurate terminology, particularly in a context where donor aid reports are already changing the language by which we understand the context in favor of the Israeli narrative. Given the current situation, what is likely to remain is modest aid disbursed in exchange for compliance with the status quo–and this is a status quo that is eroding further towards Israeli annexation and Palestinian Bantustans. What needs to be asked, therefore, is in the absence of sovereignty, can international aid and donors play a progressive role in what is clearly a situation of settler colonialism, the longest occupation in modern history, and accelerating apartheid-like conditions? Here I propose that it can, but only if it is forced to be progressive by a clear and consistent plan and strategy from the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian civil society groups.
Principles towards a Palestinian-Led Aid Strategy
For the remainder of this article, I want to tentatively offer some suggestions that could form the basis to develop a new aid strategy. There are many obstacles to these ideas (or others) being adopted or implemented, the most glaring one being that Palestinians are heavily dependent on aid, and so insisting on certain principles will reduce the amount of funding avenues, which will have devastating impacts on livelihoods. This is no easy choice to make. But it is imperative that the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian civil society actors create their own set of demands, because donors will not change their behavior without guidance or pressure. Perhaps some of the ideas I suggest here could inform the discussion.
First, we need to start off by asking what is the broader purpose of aid, in a situation of settler colonialism, deep and possibly irreversible de-development, extensive geographical and political fragmentation, and an aggressive counterterrorism agenda? The initial aim of aid was for humanitarian assistance, to support the peace process, and for Palestinian state-building. But now there is a huge gap between this kind of policy rhetoric and the current political reality. So, what concept or phrase could underpin a new aid strategy? The concept of “resilience”–the current fashionable buzzword of the development and aid community–is now commonplace in aid policy documents and rhetoric for the OPT. But what does “resilience” mean in this context? Setting aside my cynicism and criticisms of this concept for now, if “resilience” means helping Palestinians to weather the storm of Israeli actions, to remain in place and feed their families, and to preserve their communities with dignity, then this requires a different aid and development strategy than the one which currently operates–it requires something underpinned by the Palestinian concept of sumud, and perhaps supplemented by the UN concept of “in larger freedom” (which will be elaborated on below). While some donors have recently been doing more to advance advocacy and support Palestinian communities in Area C and East Jerusalem, none have an alternative plan–there is no “Plan B.” Indeed, the only picture donors paint is of an eroding development and governance context, and less money. So any “Plan B” needs to be developed and articulated by Palestinian actors.
Second, we cannot expect donors to act ethically–they either cannot or will not. This means that Palestinian political elites and civil society organizations–the institutions that receive donor money–need to create a framework for the conditions under which they are willing to accept donor money. If they do not, then aid will continue to be merely a strategy for stabilization, and those who receive aid will be further controlled and neutralized, with devastating impacts for Palestinian political and civic life. Continuing to accept aid in its current format will assist in the achievement of some short-term goals of sumud (particularly for organizations desperate to pay their employees and continue with service delivery), but it will not benefit longer-term goals of sumud (particularly those related to Palestinian liberation and freedom from oppression).
Third, a new “framework for sumud/resilience aid” could be developed through a series of meetings and consultations convened by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute-MAS, grassroots organizations (coordinated by the PNGO network), SMEs, and supported by international heterodox economist friends. For this framework to reflect local needs, it must include networks from all “regions” (due to the intense fragmentation experienced across the OPT), and across all the different sectors (perhaps taking an organizational form like the UN Cluster System, which breaks “needs” into different sectors such as food, health, water, shelter, logistics, etc.). There is another historical model that could be studied and perhaps resurrected (although it offers mixed lessons): the Joint Committee of the 1980s. Nathan J. Brown makes the case that the institution-building that was funded and supported in those years also helped to encourage grassroots activism and popular mobilization before and during the first intifada. This model, therefore, might provide some useful lessons because it is essential that the new aid framework has, as its core strategy, a goal to (re)empower communities.
Fourth, while all of the issues and priorities that would be highlighted by the different sectors and “regions” cannot be anticipated or guessed, some general overarching principles to start the discussion could include the following:
- Only work with donors whose aid policies are not structured or guided by counterterrorism measures. Only work with donors who remove Palestinian organizations (including Hamas) from the terrorism list; do not work with those who implement a “no-contact” policy.
- Only work with donors who do not impose anti-BDS restrictions on their aid. Donors should not be allowed to interfere with Palestinian support for the BDS movement.
- Shift the developmental focus away from macroeconomic indicators toward support for local causes: particularly small-scale investment, locally-owned real estate, and social services. A Palestinian sovereign state is not being built, and neither is a sustainable modern economy, so it is best to stop the pretense and instead support development priorities set by local communities.
- Develop a more progressive taxation system for the State of Palestine in order to reduce inequality, increase solidarity, and enhance sumud. An attempt to introduce one in 2012 failed, but this time extensive discussions with civil society organizations (including PNGO) and the trade unions should help to change opinions and build support. The OPT’s Gini coefficient measure for inequality is reportedly at thirty-five percent, which is relatively high compared with similar countries. For Palestinian sumud to be built and maintained, this level of inequality needs to be challenged and changed. Political elites and factions who oppose progressive taxation should be opposed and marginalized.
- Reconsider existing security arrangements and how security is understood. Many Western donors have told me that if security coordination is cancelled by the State of Palestine then this could mean the end of their aid mission. If this is the case, then let these aid missions end, because existing security arrangements provide no defense for Palestinians against violence from settlers and the Israeli army. Community defense and policing must be a priority for sumud/resilience.
- Propose an alternative security policy that focuses on how to develop strategies of protection against settler violence and land confiscations, how to support human rights defenders, and how to allow and foster open political debate. Since the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority/State of Palestine has implemented a security strategy focused on the needs of Israel and its settlers, and this strategy has also been used to silence Palestinian groups and activists opposed to the Oslo peace process and framework. This was wrong and disastrous from the start, but it is most definitely wrong and disastrous now, and must be transformed into something that supports Palestinian sumud/resilience.
- Make donors change their language. The European Joint Strategy of 2017-20 and the UN Development Framework use the phrase “towards a Palestinian state,” and many donors still claim that this aim guides their policies. But unless they are going to oppose the Trump Plan and use sanctions or other forms of pressure against Israel to force it to allow a sovereign Palestinian state to emerge then they should be told to stop using the language of “state-building.” It is important that a new strategy is truthful and realistic about what is possible in the current context.
- Mushtaq H. Khan proposes that a framework guided by the UN principles of “in larger freedom” could be used as the basis of a program for “neutral donors” during what he refers to as “an indefinite period of transition.” This framework would recognize the interdependence and importance of policies and practices that promote freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to live in dignity. The working group convened to develop a new framework for aid could explore how to operationalize these principles.
Conclusion: Climbing the Mountain, Re-Empowering Community Control
It is undeniable there is a mountain of obstacles for Palestinians to climb in the current context. Israel has been successful in creating “facts on the ground” and building international support for its rule over the whole of Mandate Palestine–or at least it has been successful in reducing obstacles and opposition to it. The OPT has become more fragmented, Palestinian political elites more divided, and the end-goal of self-determination has been marginalized in the international arena. But it is important to recognize some positive aspects: healthcare and education systems still function (albeit overburdened), infrastructure has been constructed (albeit confined to Area A), governance structures have been created (albeit now trapped in stasis and eroding), and Palestinians still remain and manage to support their families and communities (albeit in an increasingly challenging environment). Donor aid has played a positive role in all of these areas. But for aid to play a progressive role from here on, donors’ attempts to restrict and control Palestinian political behavior and room for maneuver, and their support for a political economy that has enhanced inequality, must be reduced and eventually stopped altogether.
If progressive donors really want to help Palestinian sumud/resilience during this difficult period then they can be advised on how their aid can support the new strategy. But if they do not take this advice and continue as before, then the difficult but necessary decision must be made to refuse their aid. And, like the BDS movement, and the tax strike/boycott actions during the first intifada, all Palestinian organizations must be prepared to stick by the guidelines, because unless they do the new strategy will not work, and donor aid will continue to divide and rule. Such an agenda might mean that Palestinian political elites and civil society actors choose to reject a lot of donors and their money, and police each other to ensure one-hundred-percent compliance, and this will have significant economic repercussions. But this is absolutely necessary in order to create a strategy whereby Palestinians can begin to control the donors rather than being controlled–this is the only way to kick-start and re-empower community control.
[Acknowledgments: This article is based on a paper presented at Muwatin’s Twenty-fifth Annual Conference “Democratisation of Palestinian Politics as a Basis to Rebuilding the National Project” held on 4-5 October 2019 at Birzeit University, Palestine. An Arabic version will be published by Muwatin Institute in a forthcoming (2020) volume that includes the conference proceedings. I would also like to thank Tareq Baconi for his comments and encouragement. But all opinions expressed and any errors are my responsibility.]
 The Trump Peace Plan was official unveiled on 28 January 2020 at the White House.
 Mandy Turner, “’Creating ‘Partners for Peace’: The Palestinian Authority and the International Statebuilding Agenda,” Journal of Statebuilding and Intervention 5, no. 1 (2011): 1-22.
 Rema Hamammi, “NGOs: The Professionalization of Politics,” Race and Class 37(1995); Sari Hanafi and Linda Tabar, The Emergence of a Palestinian Globalized Elite: Donors, International Organisations and Local NGOs, (Palestine: Institute for Palestine Studies and Muwatin, 2005).
 Tariq Dana, “Crony Capitalism in the Palestinian Authority: A Deal Among Friends,” Third World Quarterly (2019). First online: https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2019.1618705.
 I use the term “development” as a catch-all for the phrases and words used by the aid community over the decades to explain the policies and processes employed to induce a particular developmental and governance trajectory in aid-recipient societies. Despite changes in language over the decades, the core principles underlying development aid is orientalist i.e., that developing societies can and should become more “Westernized.”
 Mandy Turner, “Securing and Stabilizing: Peacebuilding as Counterinsurgency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” in The Politics of International Intervention: The Tyranny of Peace, ed. M. Turner and F. P. Kühn (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 139-162.
 TOI and AP, “Six Countries Block Resolution That Would Have Condemned Trump Peace Plan, Annexation”, Times of Israel, February 4, 2020. https://www.timesofisrael.com/eu-reportedly-blocked-from-resolution-condemning-trump-plan-annexation/.
 Muriel Asseburg, “The EU and its Member States and the Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination and Israeli-Palestinian Peace” (paper presented at the Muwatin conference, Birzeit University, Palestine, 4 October 2019).
 Mandy Turner, “No ‘Plan B’ Because ‘Plan A’ Cannot Fail: The Oslo Framework and Western Donors in the OPT, 1993-2017,” in From the River to the Sea: Palestine and Israel in the Shadow of ‘Peace,’ ed. M. Turner (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2019), 271-303.
 Jim Zanotti, The Palestinians: Overview and Key Issues for US Policy, (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 2019); Khaled Abu Toameh, “Palestinians won’t halt security ties with Israel, US - Ramallah officials”, The Jerusalem Post, February, 4, 2020. https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Palestinians-wont-halt-security-ties-with-Israel-US-Ramallah-officials-616503.
 Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, “A Humanitarian Sector in Debt: Counterterrorism, Bank De-Risking and Financial Access for NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza”, Overseas Development Institute Working and Discussion Papers, (London: ODI, 2018).
 Nathan J. Brown, “Time to Rethink But Not Abandon International Aid To Palestinians” (working paper, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2018).
 Jeremy Wildeman, Donor Aid Effeciveness and Do No Harm in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: An Oral and Documentary Analysis of Western Donor Perceptions of Development and Peacebuilding in their Palestinian Aid Programming, 2010-2016 (Ramallah: Aid Watch Palestine, 2018).
 I largely agree with Jonathan Jones’s critique of this concept. See Jonathan Joseph (2013) “Resilience as Embedded Neoliberalism: A Governmentality Approach”, Resilience, 1:1, 38-52.
 Mandy Turner, “No ‘Plan B’ Because ‘Plan A’ Cannot Fail.”
 Nathan J. Brown, “Time to Rethink But Not Abandon.”
 Firas Jaber and Naser Abdelkarim, Fair Tax Monitor – Occupied Palestinian Territory (Ramallah: Miftah, 2018).
 Mushtaq H. Khan, “Learning the Lessons of Oslo: Statebuilding and Freedoms in Palestine,” in Decolonizing Palestinian Political Economy: De-development and Beyond, ed. M. Turner and O. Shweiki (Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan, 2014), 238-256.