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Carob Juice Seller Ramallah
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Downtown ramallah
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Sign of Yassir Arafat and Saddam Husein on building in Ramallah 2010
photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, Jan 3, 2012

There are a lot of reasons I can think of why Germany ought to have voted "no" in response to the Palestinian unilateral bid for statehood at the UN, one which Mahmoud Abbas declared on the 1967 lines, which Abba Eban has referred to as "the Auschwitz lines."

But I can't say I am surprised that Germany, decided to abstain. Two summers ago, after the Egyptian revolution, I heard Dr. Hans-Gert Poettering, a former President of the European Parliament, speak in Jerusalem. In his talk although he professed to say that both the Palestinians and Israelis had to do more to bring about the two state solution, the wording he used made it clear that for him the onus was more on the Israelis than the Palestinians to make moves to revitalize the moribund peace process. Of interest now is the fact that at the time he spoke of the great hopes of the Arab spring in bringing true democracy to Egypt, hopes we can now say appear to have been overstated to say the least.

If you've been to Ramallah, you will know why on the ground it is not surprising that the Germans didn't want to give PA Mahmoud Abbas a slap in the face at the UN by voting "no." Walking in Ramallah, one can see how the Germans have supported Abbas's Palestinian Authority in many ways with all sorts of aid projects--in the fields of water and sanitation, economic reform, institution building and civil society, and in the PA civil police force which is funded by the EU. In other words, Germany, like other EU countries, have "invested" in the PA, in the notion that the Palestinians under Abbas's PA leadership, are to get a state. As such, it is not surprising that Germany would not want to have delivered Abbas a slap in the face, by voting no against his bid at the UN for non member statehood, thereby appearing to weaken him against his rival Hamas.

In 2012, Germany gave Palestine nearly $93 million this year, of which about $53 million was earmarked for development. ( Germany, like other European countries, is so invested in the notion of Abbas as a partner who can deliver peace (even when realities on the ground point to the fact that this is not the case), that it continues to prop him up, rather than admit that he will never be able to deliver. (As an aside, in September 2012, the EU announced it would double its aid for Palestinian development and the Palestinian Authority to €200 million in 2012, with a further directive that €100 million aid credits unspent in 2011 to be also spent in 2012. Since 1994, the EU has poured at least €5 billion in aid to the Palestinians, making it the single-largest multilateral donor).

To my mind, the more invested a European country is in building up the PA under Abbas, the less likely they would vote "no" to Abbas's unilateral statehood bid at the UN. To do so, for one, would make it more and more uncomfortable for their NGO's working on the ground in the West Bank.

I have spoken to people that have worked for a German NGO in the West Bank, whose work is designed to increase democracy, and the rule of law under the PA. In private conversations the people on the ground know that there are significant problems with the PA's commitment to democracy, and how with the control of the press, the arrest of journalists, corruption charges, cronyism, and lack of accountability concerns about the PA government have only been growing. This, of course, wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Of course, it is not very likely that any European country that has heavily invested in Abbas's PA, will ever come out and say that it made a mistake, and its investment hasn't given the result it thought it would.

I'll never forget what one European working in Ramallah said to me just over a year ago, "Come back next time and I'll show you where the beautiful people live". He was referring to a new suburb of Ramallah, where there are upscale homes. Who are these "beautiful people" and where is a lot of this new wealth from?  It's from international aid money that has lined the pockets of Fatah cronies. My distinct impression is that the European employees of NGO's are not blind as to what is going on the ground in the West Bank, although you aren't likely to hear them say these things to the press. Then the EU governments would have to admit to themselves and their taxpayers that they have been duped, and that large amounts of the funds they have spent have been misused.

I remember speaking with an individual from a German NGO privately in 2011 about the Palestinian media, for example. This person spoke candidly  about how Fatah  controlls the print media, and how you would never hear Palestinians talking about anything political on the streets or in any public place, for fear of the Fatah government. How comfortable would things be on the ground for this NGO employee if he started saying that to the press?

Finally I also remember talking to a German employee of an NGO who had visited UNWRA refugee camps near Ramallah. He acknowledged that the Palestinians living in these camps were being told by PA officials and others that they would be returning to live in pre-1967 Israel, which he knew could not be the case if ever a two state solution were to come about. When I asked him why he didn't tell the Palestinians he met in these camps that this was a fantasy, and that they would end up living in the West Bank, he responded, "How could I?.” It was as if to say that it wasn't up to him to burst their bubble--why should he be the fall guy?.

In short based on my visits to the West Bank, I am not really surprised that Germany voted to abstain at the UN, [As an aside, IMRA's website has a translation of an article from Der Speigal which says that Merkal asked Netanyahu to freeze settlements, and when he wouldn't commit to this she decided to change her vote from a "no" to abstaining.  

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.