by Hugh Fitzgerald
As is well known, the Arabs no longer put the Palestinians at the center of their politics. The vivid demonstration of this was the decision of four Arab states to normalize ties with Israel, without waiting for the Palestinian demands for an independent state to be met. And there are other Arab or Muslim states – Oman, Mauritania – believed ready to follow suit. Finally, there are Arab countries that, without normalizing ties themselves, look favorably on other states doing so, and maintain their own close cooperation on security matters with the Jewish state, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The four Arab states – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco – that recently agreed to normalize ties with Israel, were demonstrating that they were putting their own national interests first, and would no longer allow the Palestinians to dictate their policy toward the Jewish state. But it was not only those four states that caused fury among the Palestinians, with Abbas raging in spittle-flecked fury in Ramallah, denouncing those states as having “betrayed” the Palestinians and “stabbed us in the back.” The Palestinians were further horrified when, having asked the Arab League to condemn those states normalizing ties with Israel, they were turned down flat. It has begun to dawn on the Palestinians that they are much less important to the other Arabs than they had allowed themselves to believe. Chastened, they have toned down their vituperative rhetoric, hoping to win back Arab support. But it won’t work. Too many benefits have accrued to the four Arab states that have normalized ties. Other states – Oman, Mauritania – are waiting in the wings, hoping to follow suit.
For each state that normalized ties with Israel, there were different benefits awaiting them. For the UAE, it was the go-ahead to buy $23 billion dollars in American weapons, including 50 F-35 Stealth fighter jets that the UAE had wanted to buy for six years, and at long last was being granted its wish. For Bahrain, it was American assurances of protection against Iran, which has fomented trouble among the Bahraini Shi’a, who constitute 60% of the population. For the Sudan, it was the American government’s removal of Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, and a consequent lifting of its sanctions. For Morocco, it was American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. These are all benefits that the American government was willing to offer as inducements to join the Abraham Accords. These four states will now also benefit directly from their ties with Israel. Trade, technology transfer, and tourism between Israel and the normalizing states will grow. Already Emirati and Israeli businessmen, investors, bankers, entrepreneurs, tour operators, media companies, sports teams, have been making deals at breakneck speed. Israel can offer Sudan and Morocco farmers its expertise in drip irrigation, desalination, waste water management, and producing water from air, areas in which Israel is the world’s leader. It can offer all four normalizing states its advances in solar energy – another field in which Israel is a world leader. Finally, as the original Start-Up Nation, Israel can help train Arabs in several of those countries for jobs in high tech.
What can the Palestinians offer the Arab states? Nothing. They are a dead weight on the Arabs. They demand diplomatic and financial support, and continuously complain when they think they are not being given what they deserve. Their hands are perennially held out in Eleemosynary Position #1. And this continues even as the Palestinian leaders, maddeningly, make off like gangbusters, with Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk of Hamas each amassing a fortune of at least $2.5 billion, while Mahmoud Abbas of the PA, a somewhat less successful kleptocrat, has acquired $400 million dollars.
The Arabs have had quite enough of financing the Palestinians, including their crooked and grasping leaders. Not only are they unwilling to dance to the diplomatic tune of the Palestinians (as shown by the normalizing of ties with Israel), but they have drastically cut to the bone their own financial support of the Palestinians. That story is here.
Al-Resalah has an article stating that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been without a published budget for three years now, a situation that allows a great deal of corruption.
The PA has instead been creating “emergency budgets,” which lack transparency and accountability. In previous years, the budget was about $4.5 billion a year.
If these “emergency budgets” are not published, the public has no idea either as to what has come in, or on what public funds are being spent. It’s a lot easier to divert public moneys to a leader’s pocket if there is no transparency or accountability. Just three Palestinian leaders — Meshaal and Marzouk of Hamas, and Abbas of the PA — have so far helped themselves to at least $5.4 billion from public coffers. Who knows how much of donors’ aid is right now being siphoned off by Hamas and PA leaders and their relatives and friends? And who knows what else the PA is spending money on, given that nothing has been made public?
But here’s a stunning statistic from this article:
Grants and financial aid from Arab countries to the Palestinian budget declined by 81.5% on an annual basis during the first eight months of last year.
Reports issued by the Ministry of Finance indicate that the total Arab support for the budget from the beginning of 2020 until last August reached $38.93 million.
That’s less than 1% of the total budget.
A few years ago, Arab nations would routinely pledge hundreds of millions of dollars to the PA every year. As recently as April 2019, the Arab League pledged $100 million a month — $1.2 billion a year — to bolster the Palestinian budget.
At least for the first eight months of 2020 (two of those before COVID became a true pandemic), they never paid even a single installment.
Perhaps the Arab world has completely given up on the Palestinian Authority — something that bodes very ill for its future.
The decline in Arab aid to the Palestinians has been staggering. In 2019 the Arab League pledged $100 million a month, or $1.2 billion a year. In the first eight months of 2020, nothing – zero – was paid by the Arab League to the Palestinian Authority. And this refusal to honor the financial commitment the Arabs had made the previous April – long before the Abrahamic Accords – was not from one or two Arab states, unhappy with the Palestinians, but from the Arab League as a whole. What made this even more crushing was that in September 2018, the Trump Administration had cut off all aid to UNRWA, amounting to $360 million a year. It followed that up in 2019 by cutting off all aid to the PA, nearly $400 million a year.
Yet at this very moment, with the PA already reeling, the Arab League decided to slash its own aid from $1.2 billion a year down to nothing. Together with the ending of aid from Washington, that amounts to almost $2 billion a year in aid cuts for a budget that in previous years had reached $4.5 billion. This is a staggering loss, with almost half of the budget having to be cut. And even if the Biden Administration wants to reinstate the American contributions to UNRWA and the PA, it will not happen right away. Biden has to keep focussed on the coronavirus pandemic, on the $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus bill, on climate change legislation, including closing some federal lands to oil-and-gas drilling. Some of that legislation will involve, bruising battles, and as he has to husband his political capital it may be months before he gets around to reinstating that aid. And it is possible that it won’t be completely reinstated at all, unless UNRWA and the PA both clean up — completely revise — their schoolbooks, getting rid of the antisemitism and incitement to murder Jews that can be found in both. That issue will not go away. Palestinians seem to think the American aid spigot will be turned on to its previous volume without any problems; I think they are dead wrong.
Empty-pocketed, who can the Palestinians turn to? Not the Arab states they have been insulting for joining, or in some cases supporting, the Abrahamic Accords. What about Iran? But Iran itself is enduring the greatest economic crisis in its modern history. It has had to cut financial aid to the Houthis, to the Kata’ib Hezbollah militias in Iraq, and to Hezbollah (some claim the terror group’s $800 million a year subsidy from Iran has been cut in half). How can Iran under these straitened circumstance possibly increase its aid to the Palestinian Authority?
A lifting of American sanctions on Iran without any preconditions appears less certain than it did even a month ago. Secretary of State Blinken has insisted that the US is a “long way” away from a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and that other issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional activities will have to be part of the negotiations for what he has described as a “lengthened and strengthened” deal. If Iran continues to maintain that there must be no changes to the 2015 nuclear deal, and that the U.S. must first lift its sanctions before Iran will consider re-committing to the JCPOA, that might put off a lifting of those sanctions indefinitely. And if Iran’s economy continues to suffer from the American sanctions, it won’t be able even to renew the annual subsidy of $100 million that a few years ago, it managed to give to Hamas.
For the Palestinians — with the other Arabs now having washed their hands financially of their never-ending needs – the road ahead is clear: it’s downhill all the way.
First published in Jihad Watch.