A Very Political Economy
Peacebuilding and Foreign Aid in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
by Rex Brynen
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2000. 287 pp. $19.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Patrick Clawson
Middle East Quarterly
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has complained bitterly about a lack of foreign aid, a complaint echoed by many journalists and aid workers. The facts do not bear them out, as explained in this definitive account of aid to the PA by the most knowledgeable non-governmental observer of the Palestinian aid scene—an account all the more credible for Brynen's strong sympathies for both the PA and for aid. He lays out the statistical evidence to show that aid per person to the West Bank and Gaza is higher than to any other post-conflict society (five times that in El Salvador, Haiti, or Cambodia; twice that in Bosnia; higher even than those aid favorites, Bosnia and Nicaragua). He quotes John Stackhouse, a well-respected development journalist, about the "shock" he suffered visiting the "cleanest, neatest refugee camps I'd seen." Stackhouse concludes: "The moral tragedy is that every dollar of aid spent in the Palestinian areas comes directly from the aid budgets meant for the world's poor--the one billion people who go to bed dizzy with hunger dripping in malarial sweat, walk barefoot on gravel, [and] deliver babies in screaming pain."
Brynen deems the aid program a success on balance, but his excellent information about gold-plated aid projects will give some readers pause. The U.S. Agency for International Development's idea of housing for poor in Gaza, where the poverty line family income is $600 per year, was four-bedroom apartments costing $30,000; the European Union, by contrast, built apartments at $60,000 each. Then there is the European Hospital, with its $750,000 in landscaping, but with a design so bad (the morgue is next to the kitchen) and costs so high that it sits empty - but fear not: sewage is trucked into the empty hospital to prevent a breakdown in its otherwise idle waste-processing equipment. Not that the donors, like the U.S. or Europe, are the main problem; Brynen recounts the evidence about substantial PA corruption and inefficiency.
While he provides an extraordinary wealth of well-documented information, Brynen's account is marred by the occasional lapse into mind-numbing political science jargon ("neopatrimonial mechanisms of political management") and, more seriously, by his anti-Israel bias. Two examples suffice. In his never-ending search for some way to praise the PA, he complements it for raising a lot of tax revenue, without noting that over 80 percent of that revenue is collected by Israel and transferred to the PA (or sometimes to Arafat's personal accounts). The five-page section on "the impact of Israeli policies" catalogues all the problems Israel is said to have caused without a word about its positive accomplishments, such as creating an honest civil service—something lost since the PA was established.
Related Topics: Palestinians | Patrick Clawson | Spring 2001 MEQ
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