PAL WE 15
Memorandum submitted by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Background and Focus
The below evidence is submitted on behalf of the members of BADIL Resource Center, an independent Palestinian NGO based in Bethlehem, occupied West Bank.
BADIL was established based on the recommendations of a series of public conferences held by Palestinian refugee and IDP community organizations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza between 1991 - 1996. BADIL is owned by a General Assembly composed of some 50 persons actively involved in Palestinian refugee community development and advocacy for Palestinian refugee rights in the occupied West Bank. Its work is directed by an elected Board. The organization works in the fields of refugee community capacity building, research and advocacy for rights-based protection and durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. It networks and cooperates with a variety of organizations of Palestinian refugee communities in exile in the wider Middle East, as well as in Europe and the Americas.
BADIL has consultative status with UN ECOSOC, a partnership agreement with UNHCR, and cooperates with UNRWA on a regular basis. BADIL is a member of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), the Habitat International Coalition (HIC), and an affiliate of the Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) registered in the U.K. It is also a member of numerous Palestinian NGO Coalitions, among them the global Palestine Right-of-Return Coalition and the Occupied Palestinian and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) in the OPT.
Based on the assumption that not many local Palestinian civil society organizations will submit evidence, we felt that we should convey to your Committee an assessment of the current situation in the OPT from a local perspective.
Thus, while our evidence is guided by the findings of numerous recent studies and reports issued by local and international actors experts in the fields of emergency response, humanitarian and development assistance and human rights in the OPT, in particular the reports of the World Bank, UNCTAD (TD/B/53/2, 19 July 2006), the UN Assistant Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Coordinator of Emergency Aid, Jan Egeland, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the OPT, John Dugard (A/HRC/2/5, 5 September 2006), we have tried to avoid repetition of facts and figures presented there. We have rather decided to present to the Committee a summary assessment of the impact of the recent events on development in the OPT based on the particular experience and perspective of a local Palestinian NGO.
We enclose to our evidence a recent study prepared by BADIL and the Norwegian Refugee Council's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) on forced displacement of Palestinians caused by Israel's Wall and its Associated Regime of movement restrictions in occupied East Jerusalem. We kindly ask the Committee to give attention to this report which includes information and recommendations relevant to your mission.
Crisis, poverty and development in the OPT - a local perspective
1. We are aware of the fact that the International Development Committee is particularly interested in learning more about: 1) the implications of the Hamas election victory; 2) its impact on poverty/the humanitarian situation; 3) how development can be best achieved in this context; and, 4) how effective has been the response of the U.K. to the new reality in the OPT. At the same time, we hold strongly that these particular questions should be examined in the broader political and historical context of events that have shaped the development of Palestinian society in the OPT.
The build-up of the current political and economic crisis and poverty in the OPT
2. The context of Palestinian society in the OPT has been determined mainly by the almost 40 year old occupation and colonization (settlement) by Israel; and, by a situation where the majority of the Palestinian people has remained in forced exile for almost 60 years (i.e. Palestinian refugees) and is denied both access to the OPT and return to their places of origin now located in Israel. It is a context in which some 70% of the Palestinian people worldwide, and close to 50% of the Palestinians in the OPT, are refugees and displaced persons. Military occupation and the expanding network of Jewish settlements in the OPT have also been the major obstacle to sustainable development of Palestinian society in the OPT since 1967.
3. Agreements signed between Israel and PLO in the framework of the "Oslo peace process" in the 1990s failed to end occupation and colonization of the OPT - the number of Jewish settlers rather doubled in this period. The economic (Paris) agreements signed in this period increased dependency on Israel, while Israel - in 1994 - began systematic restriction of movement of Palestinian persons and goods inside the OPT and between the OPT and Israel.
4. In this period, some economic development in the OPT occurred - despite the extremely unfavorable conditions - mainly because international donors took on responsibility for development aid, thus relieving the occupying power from a task it had had little interest in performing.
5. Donor aid, and the lack of transparency of negotiations, agreements and transactions conducted with the Palestinian Authority in this period, however, also nurtured clientalism and corruption among those close to economic and political power. This phenomenon, strongly criticized by the Palestinian public and the international community, triggered tighter financial control of and efforts for the introduction of good-governance standards among the Palestinian Authority, but the problem was never really resolved.
6. Palestinian society has not witnessed development, but rather de-development on a massive scale since the collapse of the Oslo process and subsequent violence in 2000. Israel's military operations in the OPT since 2000 have resulted in massive destruction of private and public infrastructure and resources, even tighter restriction of movement of Palestinian persons and goods, and have left almost 4,000 Palestinians - mainly civilians - dead, while thousands more have been injured or detained. In this context, Palestinian poverty sky-rocketed, and international development aid gave place to humanitarian and emergency aid and has maintained this format ever since.
7. Throughout the "Oslo Process" of the 1990s, large sectors of the Palestinian public and civil society had criticized the international community and the Palestinian leadership for the lack of respect and enforcement of international law and standards during the bi-lateral negotiations with Israel. Public criticism turned into despair and alienation when the international community (United Nations, Quartet, EU , a.o.) failed to even enforce the standards of international humanitarian law in response to Israel's disproportionate military force employed and war crimes committed in the OPT after September 2000.
The 2006 Palestinian PLC Elections and International Sanctions
8. By 2006, the international community had also failed to act upon the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Israel's Wall and its Associated Regime, and Palestinian society in the OPT had lost confidence in the political will of the international community to enforce basic standards of international law in the conflict with the Israeli occupation. Palestinians had also lost confidence in the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to effectively protect them and cater for their needs.
9. Palestinian society had, however, not yet lost confidence in its body politics and was committed to bring about some change by means of democratic elections, which - for the first time and with international support - were to include almost the whole spectrum of the political forces active in the OPT. It is important to remind here of the fact that in the months and weeks leading up to the 2006 PLC elections, Palestinians did not receive an indication from the international community that a vote for Hamas would not be respected or result in sanctions.
10. In January 2006, Palestinian society in the OPT thus joined forces, succeeded to conduct exemplary fair and democratic elections under occupation and elected the list of Hamas which promised to work for reform and change. Hamas' victory in these elections can best be explained as a result of two factors: a) the particular (and new) Palestinian election system in which each person cast a vote for a national party list and a local list of individual candidates - a system that enabled voters to hold their local leaders to account - and, b) the fact that the Palestinian public concluded that reform of the Palestinian political system in the OPT requires a change of leadership after more than 10 years of Fatah rule.
11. The Hamas victory came as a surprise to all, including the victorious party itself which had hoped for nothing more than a strong opposition role in the P.A. parliament. The immediate impact of the Hamas victory was a vigorous Palestinian public debate about how to balance between Hamas' social and political program derived from Islam and the needs and priorities of Palestinian society in the OPT which favors a separation between religion and government. This Palestinian public debate was cut off and silenced by the response of the international community.
12. The decision by the majority of western states, donors to the P.A., to respond with economic and diplomatic sanctions hit Palestinian society by surprise and caused deep indignation. Unlike in the case of Israel whose decision to withhold (not for the first time) tax refunds as a punitive measure was no surprise, Palestinian society as a whole expected that western states, whose model of democracy they had endorsed, would respect and accept the outcome of their democratic elections. Palestinians felt - and still feel - strongly humiliated, because everybody realized that we had, irrespective of previous disappointments, naively and wrongly considered the international community as an ally our the quest for self-determination.
13. Palestinian society in the OPT did not plunge into yet deeper poverty as a result of the Hamas election victory, but rather as a result of the sanctions subsequently imposed by western states, including the EU and the U.K. As it appears today, these sanctions were the result of political pressure exerted by the United States and Israel, and no serious effort was made in advance to study their likely consequences for the social and economic fabric of Palestinian society in the OPT.
14. Thus, and in summary, the international community has failed Palestinians in the OPT not only by not upholding its own standards of international law and democratic process; it has also plunged Palestinian society into an unprecedented political, economic and humanitarian crisis and poverty, which now threaten our society's very foundations. Western states, including the European Union and the U.K., have thus accomplished what 40 years of Israeli occupation have failed to achieve.
The International Response to the Crisis and Perspectives of Development
15. In light of the existential crisis caused by the international sanctions regime, the Quartet's temporary international mechanism for Palestinian basic needs (TIM) is an utterly in-effective and even counterproductive response: financial support provided via TIM is far too late and too little; it has raised false hopes for salaries among Palestinians who have thus delayed and lost opportunities for effective coping; the mechanism destroys the remnants of transparency and due process found in the P.A. political and economic system; it does not address the needs of the economically vital Palestinian private sector; and, it further undermines the institutions of the Palestinian "state-in-the-making" built with the help of international development aid in the past.
16. We would like to alert the Committee to the fact that development is not possible in the current context which is characterized by:
a) the rapid disintegration of the P.A. and the Palestinian political and economic system in the OPT;
b) economic and social strangulation of Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip which - despite all unfounded international optimism in the past - has remained occupied territory with its population de facto imprisoned;
c) the de facto demise of the proposed two-state solution by Israel whose measures on the ground rapidly destroy the land-, resource-, and demographic basis of a Palestinian state in the OPT. In particular, we would like to draw the Committee's attention to the fact that the Israeli government has abandoned its plans for unilateral withdrawal ("convergence") from parts of the West Bank so that no further withdrawals can be expected. Moreover, the Israeli/Jewish settler movement has launched a renewed and concerted effort at settlement expansion in the OPT (See, for example, the recent report of Peace Now on the expansion of so-called illegal outposts during Israel's war in Lebanon). This, while at the same time Israel continues construction of its Wall in the occupied West Bank. The result is an absurd scenario where Israel both annexes de facto Palestinian land to the West of the Wall and displaces Palestinians living there, while Jewish settlement to the East of Wall continues to grown and expand;
d) the rapid decline of support among the Palestinian public and civil society for a two-state solution which is no longer perceived as feasible. A recent JMCC public opinion poll, for example, showed that 46% of the Palestinians in the OPT currently support a two-state solution, while 30% favor a one-state solution for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis in historical Palestine. (7% favor a large Palestinian state in all of historical Palestine, while 3% support an Islamic state in Palestine; see: JMCC Poll no. 60, September 2006.)
How can development be achieved?
17. In the specific context of the OPT political and military factors cause on-going de-development while no substantive political process is in place for conflict resolution. In this context, development assistance cannot support political solutions to the conflict, because a serious effort for political solutions must yet be put in place.
18. A serious international effort at conflict resolution must tackle the root causes of this protracted conflict (occupation and the question of the refugees) and address the illegal situation created by Israel in the OPT in the course of its 40-years' long occupation as analyzed in the 2004 ICJ advisory opinion. It must be be based squarely on relevant international law, including IHL and IHRL, and include effective mechanisms of enforcement and third party arbitration.
19. Development assistance could support such serious effort at conflict resolution, if programs were carefully designed to meet the standards of a rights-based approach and would encourage Israel's compliance with its obligations under international law and UN resolutions. Such development assistance would avoid by all means assistance measures and programs which facilitate maintenance of the existing illegal situation by Israel, and it would contribute to strengthening procedures and institutions of Palestinian economic independence and self-determination.
20. We would like to alert the Committee to the fact that current diplomatic efforts, whether launched by the Quartet, the International Crisis Group,or other well-meaning actors, do not meet the requirements of a serious effort at conflict resolution. In fact, 60 years of experience with international efforts at conflict resolution have taught Palestinians that the international community lacks the political will for such intervention.
21. While the Palestinian people as a whole, and Palestinian society in the OPT, will thus have no choice but to build on our resilience and to prevail, the Committee should be aware of the fact that the price for the lack of effective intervention today will be costly in the future, in terms of innocent human lives, regional stability, the relationship between western states and people and states in the region, and in terms of the standing of international law and order as a whole. The price will also be high in terms of future international investment in emergency and humanitarian aid for poverty alleviation, Wall/"barrier" mitigation, crisis management and amelioration, all of which may treat some symptoms but not the root causes of this protracted conflict.