The United Nations voted on Nov. 29, 1947 in favor of a plan to split Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Arab leaders immediately rejected the plan and have continued to do so throughout the 71 years of the Jewish state’s existence.
All of the solutions that have since been proposed have focused on the principle of partition, the most important among them—and the one that could very well be responsible for the current reality in which we live—was the 1993 Oslo Accords.
One of the less discussed outcomes of the agreement was the rise of the human-rights and humanitarian-aid industry in the Palestinian territories.
The number of nongovernmental organizations with a vested interested in perpetuating the conflict has multiplied ever since the Palestinian Authority was formed, creating a new social status whose existence depends entirely on foreign aid. Humanitarian aid and international-funding mechanisms are no longer the means to promoting a solution, but the objective.
Throughout modern history, it was civil society that laid the foundations for the creation of state institutions and paved the way for governance. In Palestinian society, however, the opposite is true. With the P.A.’s founding, more aid organizations were established at the expense of effective and official government institutions. This reality has led to a deviation from the traditional spheres of NGO activity to the point that these organizations now have excessive control over many aspects of Palestinian life.
According to a 2016 report by the Palestinian NonGovernmental Organizations Network of some 130 volunteer associations following the P.A.’s establishment, civil organizations are responsible for the supply of 60 percent of medical services and health insurance in the Palestinian territories. In other words, the majority of Palestinian civil-society organizations not only perpetuate the conflict, but significantly delay the development of the P.A.’s own institutions.
Furthermore, instead of promoting some type of process for the resolution of the conflict, these organizations consistently act to exacerbate it. A code of conduct published in 2008 and signed by more than 200 Palestinian organizations obligates its members to “align themselves with the national agenda that prohibits normalization with the occupier, whether in the field of diplomatic-security or development and culture.” Let me repeat that: Palestinian organizations cannot cooperate with Israel or promote joint Israeli-Palestinian projects.
Last September, the Association of International Development Agencies, which counts among its members 80 different aid organizations that operate inside the Palestinian territories, published a report titled “25 Years to the Oslo Accords: Time for a New Narrative.” These ungrateful organizations callously describe the international aid programs as “an attempt to cover up the failures of the Oslo process and Israel’s violations of international law.”
They claim the expensive and vital aid programs should be accompanied by legal efforts and diplomatic pressure directed not at the P.A., of course, but Israel.
“Peace, development and security for millions of Palestinians can only exist if their rights are at the forefront of future peace talks and their protection is ensured,” the association contends. There is no mention of a need for a solution that brings an end to the violence or the establishment of institutions, but rather just another desperate attempt to preserve the aid industry disguised as the defense of human rights.
The Oslo Accords—possibly the closest thing to Palestinian agreement to a partition plan—is also the plan that brought the rise of organizations that draw their strength from the accords’ weaknesses. A World Bank report from the beginning of 2018 found that aid funds do not help to improve quality of life for residents in the territories, but rather contribute to the strengthening of the NGO elite.
On the anniversary of the end of the British Mandate and the adoption of the partition plan, and 25 years since the Oslo Accords, the United Nations and individual donor states would be wise to invest their energy and resources in finding a tenable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—one that will be agreed upon by both sides instead of just bolstering the aid industry.
Odelia Azoulay is a researcher with NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that promotes greater transparency among foreign-funded Israeli nongovernmental organization.