Solidarity donors are key to reclaiming peace-building in Palestine as international aid has undermined Palestinian identity
As my taxi rounded the hairpin turns of the Wadi al-Nar highway between Bethlehem and Ramallah, I spotted one of the ubiquitous US Agency for International Development (USAID) signs proclaiming that this road was ‘a gift from the American people’. The dubious nature of this gift became apparent as the highway wound along the barbed-wire-topped Israeli separation wall, and Ma’ale Adumim, the largest Israeli settlement in the West Bank. In 2016, the director of a Palestinian civil society organisation told me that she refused to apply for USAID funding because the US hypocritically allowed Israeli settlements to expand on Palestinian land. ‘They give money for roads,’ she said, ‘but these roads separate us even more than before.’ During the second intifada (uprising), Israel built several new checkpoints along this road, further restricting Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Donors’ developmental and peace-building projects in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are fraught with this kind of ambivalence.
Since the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, international donors have given over $30 billion in aid to the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This ‘peace dividend’ was intended to help establish an independent Palestinian state through economic development and by cultivating a democratic civil society. Instead, the Palestinian economy deteriorated during the Oslo period, while the NGO-isation of civil society demobilised social movements. The collapse of the peace process and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank have further diminished prospects for peace.
Rather than contributing to a just peace, donor interventions into the curriculum and PA security apparatus facilitate Palestinian cultural and territorial dispossession, and echo the divide and conquer practices of British rule during the mandate period.