The situation in the Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza, remains bleak, especially since public sector employees went on strike on September 2. What is worrying about the strike is that it is strengthening the factional divisions and infighting among Palestinians. The security situation for average Palestinians is also affected, as the security forces of the Palestinian Authority are not receiving regular salaries—and in fact have not been since March 2006.
The United States Congress has provided in the fiscal year 2006 "Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act" $150 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) for US aid programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. President Bush, with help from Congress, provided $50 million in direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority to rehabilitate roads, water facilities, schools and health clinics in Gaza, to help ease the transition after the Israeli disengagement.
The direct aid came out of the $75 million ESF appropriation for the fiscal year 2005. The "Fact Sheet on Palestinian Assistance" by the US State Department states that since the formation of a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) government, the US has provided a total of $300 million in humanitarian and other aid to the Palestinians, of which $245 million was set aside for basic human health needs, $42 million for promoting democratic alternatives to Hamas, and $13 million in project support costs and oversight activities.
According to Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, "the United States of America is not going to stop giving money for the immunisation of Palestinian children... It would be against our values to do that. So, for the most vulnerable and innocent populations, we will find a way to respond to those humanitarian needs."
The European Union (EU) has spearheaded international efforts to establish a Temporary International Mechanism (TIM). Through a World Bank account, donations or "social allowances" may be channelled to Palestinian health workers and other needy families, but the World Bank account reportedly will not pay the salaries of most other PA civil servants. Although the US supports the funding plan, it has said it will not pay into it. Despite support for a TIM, there is no current consensus on how cash payments are to be delivered to needy Palestinians, nor is there a procedure for determining which families qualify as needy recipients.
On 23 June 2006 the EU announced the contribution of €105 million to TIM for the Palestinians, of which €10 million would go for health supplies, €40 million for ensuring uninterrupted supply of essential utilities such as fuel, and €40 million for the payment of allowances to individuals—specifically those providing care in hospitals and clinics, and those judged to be in greatest need.
Britain also promised £12 million, and made its first contribution of £3million on August 11 for essential supplies in the health sector. A further £3million was announced at the Stockholm Conference on September 1. This will fund essential operations, maintenance and repair work to keep water, sanitation and electricity services running. The TIM, according to the British Department for International Development, (DFID) has already made an impact by supplying fuel for emergency generators to keep hospitals, water supplies and sanitation facilities working. £15million was also given to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in April, to provide health, social support and other basic services to Palestinian refugees.
In his speech at the International Donor Conference on the Palestinian Territories, in Stockholm on September 1 2006, Norwegian State Secretary Raymond Johansen urged all donors to join forces in supporting TIM. He stated that TIM offers three windows: it complements the UN cap, increases donor coordination and supports the Palestinian Authority's ability to deliver basic social services such as health care and education to its people.
Mr Johansen stressed the importance of free access to and free movement in the Palestinian Territories, the fact that the international donor community is not doing enough to meet humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population, and the urgency of the need for Israel to release the Palestinian VAT revenues—$500million—which are still being withheld.
He also stressed that Norway considers a seamless transition between humanitarian assistance and long-term development in the Palestinian Territory to be vital. The common long-term objective of building viable Palestinian institutions remains, according to Mr Johansen, and should not be lost amid short-term relief efforts.
While health and other essential infrastructure is the primary concern of the TIM contributors, and although the US government has offered $42 million for promoting democratic alternatives, there is still clearly an information gap in identifying the most needy cases for giving out social allowances.
The Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees, part of the Middle East Council of Churches, advocates that a system be worked out whereby the TIM mechanism and US aid can be used to ensure that all government employees will receive their salaries expediently and regularly. It is difficult to predict what the outcome will be if the current situation, especially in the Gaza Strip, deteriorates further.
The moves by Fatah, Hamas, and other parties towards a "grand coalition" that can work with Israel are encouraging, but the political process that would allow for this to occur could take a significant amount of time. One only need look at the "road map" for peace to understand just how difficult compromise and progress can be. In the short term, wise and practical ways to save the public employees of the Palestinian National Authority need to be devised, so that the citizens of the West Bank and Gaza strip can enjoy a basic level of human services.