Can Any Good Come of USA Disengagement From the Palestinian Authority?
First, the USA stopped funding UNRWA. Then they stopped funding USAID, the body through which funds were directed to the various American and international humanitarian aide organizations that provided much needed help and services to the people living under the Palestinian Authority (PA). And finally, just a few days ago, the last of the military personnel supporting the security services in the PA were withdrawn. According to a local source, only one American military advisor remains and that is because he bought a house in Bethlehem for personal reasons.
The PA administration has not fought these reductions in funding. In fact, a Congressional study entitled, US Foreign Aid to the Palestinians, quoted a source that suggested that Palestinian leaders
have determined “that the limited U.S. foreign assistance currently received is far outweighed by the potential liability to which they would be subjected if they were to accept it.”
And what is that liability? In October 2018, the American Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act was amended in such a way as to declare that foreign bodies not generally under American legal jurisdiction can be considered to be so if they accept American funds. The Palestinian Authority decided they stood to lose more money in claims submitted to the courts by survivors of American victims of Palestinian Arab terrorism than they gain with American aid. The graphic shows that as of 2016 (and the figures for 2017 were almost identical – 2018 figures are not yet available) the United States outranked other donor countries by far.
In anticipation of the pinch that the PA will feel as their budget shrinks significantly, they tried to increase duties owing to the Authority for new cars imported by dealerships. This resulted in a short strike that did not affect the decision to hike import duties one bit. Here is a photo of a striking car dealership:
The Middle East Eye, an online news site, purports to bring the news from “fearless reporters” who are “lead by events and not political leanings”. They published an article about the popular protests against the PA leadership regarding an unpopular attempt by the PA to get their hands on people’s hard-earned money with a social insurance ploy residents thought might be a scam. The article concludes with:
“The PA’s only legitimacy is based on money. And in the Trump era, they have very little aid or funding coming into their accounts,” he said.
“With an impending economic crisis and the unlikelihood of elections happening soon, despite what Abbas says, if these protests were to take [on] a life of their own and really grow, it could be terminal for the PA.”
However, it appears that Saudi Arabia may be willing to fill the vacuum to a certain extent. At the end of November last year, Al-Monitor reported that:
. . . the kingdom will always support the Palestinian cause at various political, economic and humanitarian levels.
and transferred $60 million to the PA. The article suggests that this may be a reward for the Palestinian Authority leadership having supported Saudi Arabia in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi a month earlier.
Interestingly, internal conflicts within the PA and Saudi Arabia may have quite dramatic impact on the future of the PA. The Palestinian Arab population was reportedly greatly disturbed by the murder of Khashoggi and openly opposed the attitude of the PA leadership. Together with the protests against the social insurance law, perhaps Palestinian Arabs are beginning to find the strength to raise their common voice against Abbas and his cronies. Within the Saudi kingdom, there is a split between King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; the former supports the PA rejection of overtures regarding peace talks conducted by the Americans while the latter is in favour. How will these internal conflicts play out?
Mahmoud Abbas is fighting with all his might to keep the PA boat afloat in uncertain seas. He is grasping at straws. Will Saudi Arabia really step up to the brink and keep him financially solvent? Will other Arab countries? Will European countries? Or will Saudi Arabia strengthen its kind-of-secret-kind-of-not alliance with Israel against their mutual enemy, Iran? What effect will this have on other countries fearful of the effect of Iran on their security?
Abbas makes speeches claiming to be against terrorism and willing to negotiate for peace with Israel at the same time as he makes payouts to Jew-killers and names streets and schools after them; he accuses individuals and countries who seek normalization with Israel of being traitors to the Arab cause. Can he keep up his hypocritical stance as his funds shrink and he tries to take money from the people he is supposed to protect, people who barely have enough to live on as it is? Or will the street finally rise up against their corrupt and vile leadership that has sucked them dry of the means to live a decent life and of hope?
In view of potential imminent collapse, will Israel step up and do what some individuals in the PA have told me they pray for? Will Israel save the Palestinian Authority from itself and declare sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (if not Gaza, which is an entirely different matter), giving citizenship to those who wish to declare loyalty to the Jewish state in return for the freedom to earn a good living, raise healthy families and achieve their personal ambitions? In other words, to live as Middle Eastern Arabs and non-Arab minorities outside of Israel can only dream of?