Friday April 13, 2007
Aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended in April 2006 after Hamas's victory. Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty
With poverty up by 30% in 2006 and previously unknown levels of factional violence on the streets, the Palestinian territories - occupied by Israel in the 1967 war - risk becoming "a failed state" if the punitive measures are not lifted, the charity warns.
Palestinians were already struggling to make ends meet when key donors, including the US, the EU and Canada, suspended direct aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in April 2006. The move came in response to the victory of the Islamist movement Hamas in parliamentary elections. Israel halted the transfers of tax and customs revenue it owed to the PA shortly afterwards.
Hamas refuses to recognise Israel, to renounce violence or to accept existing peace agreements, but it has hinted recently at a more pragmatic approach and largely observed a ceasefire. Last month, in a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia, it agreed to form a national unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas, triggering new moves to ease the boycott.
The PA is now operating on a quarter of the $160m (£81m) a month it needs to finance its activities. The impact has been so severe because an estimated one million people depend on incomes paid to 160,000 government employees. Oxfam reports that 46% of Palestinians now do not have enough food to meet their needs; that the number of people in deep poverty (defined as those living on less than 50 cents a day) nearly doubled in 2006 to over one million; and that incomes of PA workers had fallen to 40% of their normal levels. A November 2006 poll of government workers showed an increase in poverty from 35% to 71%.
Salam Fayyad, the highly regarded Palestinian finance minister, said in Brussels on Wednesday that the boycott had "devastated" the Palestinian economy.
Norway has agreed to resume financial assistance to the PA , while Russia, France, and other EU governments are considering renewing transfers in order to improve the lives of Palestinians, beyond a "temporary international mechanism" designed to provide direct support to Palestinians without going through the PA.
The US and Israel have showed no sign of changing their positions despite repeated calls to accept that the blockade has proved counter-productive.
Oxfam argues that it is legitimate for donors to attach conditions to how their money is spent, but not to advance a political agenda. Aid could be suspended if money was used corruptly or to fund terrorism. "International aid should be provided impartially on the basis of need, not as a political tool to change the policies of a government," said Oxfam's international executive director, Jeremy Hobbs.
"Oxfam opposes violence against civilians and supports Israel's right to exist alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state. But suspending aid - and withholding tax revenue in violation of international agreements - is not an ethical or effective way to achieve these outcomes. And in this case, it hasn't worked. Instead, parents have been driven into debt, children taken out of classrooms and whole families deprived of access to medicine and healthcare."