Throwing Good Irish Taxpayers’ Money After Bad: Ireland’s Latest Gift to The Palestinians

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney is in need of some new advisers.

The current ones, insofar as Middle East policy is concerned, are stuck somewhere in the mid-1990s, operating on old assumptions that fail to keep up with developments in the region. Minister Coveney’s latest move is to announce this week an increase of 20%, that is €5 million, in Ireland’s aid funding to UNRWA in 2019. This is justified on the grounds of an apparently ‘increased demand’ for the services of the UN agency to 5.4 million ‘vulnerable Palestinian refugees’. 

UNRWA Headquarters in Gaza (Source: Wissam Nassar/FLASH90)
Since the Oslo Accords of 1993-5, total world development aid to the Palestinian Arabs is estimated at US$37.2 billion (OECD data). Irish taxpayers have provided €68 million of this since 2005. The US Marshall Aid plan which allowed the reconstruction of western Europe after World War 2 amounted to $100 billion (in 2018 dollar values).

Yet more than a third of this amount has been pumped into the Arab-ruled parts of the West Bank and Gaza – an area slightly larger than Ireland’s County Mayo!

Where is the visible outturn for such a massive infusion of cash? The Palestinian leadership remains bitterly divided between the Fatah and Hamas factions that rule the Palestinian Authority and Gaza respectively.

Both areas are plagued by poor infrastructural development, financial corruption, huge and conspicuous disparities of wealth and a complete lack of democracy. Hamas has poured (literally) millions of dollars worth of concrete into the building of attack tunnels under the border with Israel.

The two factions are united only in incitement of their populations to hatred of Israel, educating their children to look forward to its demise and doling out ‘pay for slay’ life stipends to the families of ‘martyrs’ who succeed in killing Jews. In other words, the money thrown at UNRWA serves to perpetuate the problem, not solve it, while doing little to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinian Arabs.

The Irish Times yesterday criticised the newly announced Trump-Kushner development plan for the region by claiming it suffers from a ‘conceptual flaw’. The truth of that remains to be seen, but, in the light of 25 years’ experience, the same criticism can certainly be made of the world’s development and humanitarian program in aid of the Palestinian Arabs.
Minister Coveney states that Irish aid must continue until ‘a just and lasting solution to the refugee situation is reached’. This, despite the fact that the vast majority of Palestinian ‘refugees’ are still living within the borders of the land of their initial displacement in 1948; that, of all displaced people in the world, these ‘refugees’ are the only ones for whom refugee status is inherited through the generations, greatly inflating their numbers, which stood at under 700,000 in 1948; and that the Palestinian Arabs have the UNRWA agency all to themselves, leaving all other displaced people in the world to be cared for by UNHCR, the UN High Commission for Refugees.

It also contrasts sharply with the position of the 900,000 Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands after 1947 who have long since been assimilated into their host societies.

But there is a deeper conceptual flaw at the root of Irish government thinking: the assumption, based uncritically on the Irish historical experience, that the Palestinian Arabs are a distinct and united people unjustly deprived of statehood who seek only a place among the nations of the earth and a life at peace with all its neighbours.
If that were true, we might have expected them to accept any one of the half dozen avenues to statehood made available to them since 1947. We might have expected them to campaign for a state of their own during the years 1949 to 1967, when Jordan ruled the West Bank and Egypt ruled Gaza. We might have expected them to accept Israel’s total withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, not as a full settlement, but as a ‘deposit payment’ worth exploring for the sake of a new beginning.
Instead of such a ‘healthy’ nationalism, dismal reality has consistently shown that the raison d’etre of the Palestinian ‘national’ movement is not the attainment of their own state but the destruction of another – that of the Jewish people next door.

Recent events show that other Arabs in the region have grown tired of the self-destructive policies of the Palestinians. As far back as 2000, during the Camp David talks that led to the Clinton-Barak offer of statehood to Yasser Arafat, the Saudi ambassador to the US Prince Bandar bin Sultan was heard to say: “If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won’t be tragedy, it will be a crime”. Sure enough, the crime and tragedy of the second Intifada followed on Arafat’s rejection of the deal.

This week in Bahrain, on the sidelines of the Mideast Economic Conference where the latest $50 billion US economic plan for the Palestinians is being discussed, Jewish attendees were able to take part in a prayer service at a synagogue reopened by the authorities in 1995. Although that Gulf state does not (yet) have diplomatic relations with Israel, its foreign minister, in an unprecedented interview on Israeli TV, said: “Israel is part of the heritage of this whole region, historically. So, the Jewish people have a place amongst us”.

Meanwhile, demonstrators at a UNRWA compound in Gaza were burning effigies of Trump and Netanyahu and consigning the Bahrain conference to hell.
The two scenarios point up clearly the choice facing Ireland’s foreign minister: embrace the new positive forces in the region that signal the breaking of old logjams and offer a hope of peace, or continue with outdated policies that might have seemed fresh 25 years ago but are now shown to have failed. If Simon Coveney continues with the second, he will really be throwing good Irish taxpayers’ money after bad.

by Dermot Meleady

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