Increasing levels of poverty - health and education near melt-down - peace further away
International agency Oxfam said today that conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories were close to melt-down. It called on members of the EU, especially the UK and Germany, to press the Quartet to end the boycott of the Palestinian Authority and put pressure on Israel to release confiscated Palestinian taxes. The call comes as the Middle East Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – meets in Berlin on Wednesday February 21 to discuss the peace process.
The agency warned that with Palestinian poverty levels rapidly increasing and basic services such as health and education crumbling, the chances of peace were diminishing. Internal conflicts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have been greatly exacerbated by the inability of the PA to deliver essential services because of a lack of money.
"The Quartet needs to take off its blinkers and see the damage its policies are having on ordinary Palestinian families. Using international aid as a battering ram to force through political change is not only immoral but also counter-productive. While the Palestinian Authority is bled dry by Israel's seizure of tax revenue and the international aid boycott, peace will be a distant dream. Oxfam recognizes Israel's right to exist as part of a two-state solution. Oxfam urges all parties to end violence as well as policies that lead to human suffering," said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International Director.
In 2005 the Palestinian Authority received $814 million in customs and taxes collected by Israel, plus $348 million in international aid and nearly $394 million from domestic revenues. Since the election of Hamas, two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority's income has been slashed due to Israel's withholding of taxes and the Quartet's aid embargo.
"These policies are having a huge impact, creating a social crisis that is hitting families in the Occupied Territories. Oxfam is calling on the Quartet to put pressure on Israel to release confiscated Palestinian Authority tax revenue and to handover all these Palestinian funds," said Hobbs.
Since 2006 poverty has shot up. Two thirds of Palestinians now live in poverty, a rise of 30 percent last year. The number of families unable to get enough food has risen by 14 percent. More than half of all Palestinians are now are 'food insecure', unable to meet their families' daily requirements without assistance. The health system is disintegrating.
Public servants, such as doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers, are worst hit. They haven't had a regular income since February 2006. Their poverty rate has risen from 35 percent in 2005 to 71 percent in 2006. According to the World Bank, public sector wage arrears stood at US$572 million by the end of October 2006.
In an effort to avoid a humanitarian crisis the EU increased its aid and set up a Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) to channel aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories while by-passing the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The TIM gives support to some of the very needy but it fails to address the needs of the majority. It undermines Palestinian structures, is ineffective and is causing divisions within Palestinian society.
Oxfam warned that this temporary measure risks becoming a permanent fixture and the Quartet's proposal to expand the mechanism would only hasten the decline of existing Palestinian structures best able to deliver basic services.
The Quartet's decision to withhold funds from the elected Authority has convinced many Palestinians that the Quartet is not genuinely committed to democracy in the Middle East.