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The politics of aid
A RECENT international donors' conference in Sweden pledged $940 million to help reconstruct Lebanon's shattered infrastructure. The total cost to Lebanon's economy probably runs into billions of dollars. Nonetheless, the $940 million was almost double the $500 million originally requested by Lebanon's delegates.
The biggest donation of $175 million came from the US - the same administration that supplied bunker-busting bombs to Israel which reduced Lebanon's towns and villages to rubble. (30,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the 34 days of fighting.)
Unsurprisingly, the US donation says more about the politics of aid than about humanitarian concerns. It is an attempt to help shore up the fragile pro-Western office of the Lebanese prime minister and to counter Hezbollah's pledge to compensate Lebanon's homeless refugees.
The US and European Union's (EU) 'generosity' also stands in marked contrast to their previous attitude to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after the Islamist party, Hamas, won a majority in January's PA elections. The US and EU stopped providing aid to the PA citing Hamas's refusal to renounce armed struggle and recognise Israel. At the same time the US and EU allowed a trickle of aid to reach the office of the 'moderate' Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas.
This halting of aid, together with Israel's blockade of Gaza (and its military attacks, causing $30 million of damage and over 200 deaths) and the continuing occupation of other Palestinian areas, has made the plight of Palestinians even more desperate. According to the United Nations 80% of people in the Gaza strip live in poverty. Widespread malnutrition has also been reported by aid workers.
Western imperialism hoped that by squeezing resources to the PA it would ferment political opposition to Hamas, leading to its overthrow.
But imperialism's strategy is playing with fire. Widespread violence among unemployed gunmen and kidnappings of foreigners by various militias is becoming common in Gaza. And the ongoing enmity between armed supporters of Hamas and former PA ruling party, Fatah, could easily spill over into civil war.
The inability to pay wages and provide services is also leading to social upheavals. Most recently 175,000 Palestinian public-sector workers ignored the pleas of Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniya to abandon their indefinite strike over six months of unpaid wages.
As a result of this political meltdown, the donor's conference also pledged $500 million in humanitarian aid and reconstruction to the Palestinians.
However, like the situation in Lebanon, unless the Israeli blockade is lifted then economic assistance will be rendered ineffective. And with Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert under right-wing pressure following the Lebanese debacle, he may opt to retain Israel's stranglehold over the Palestinians and Lebanon.
In The Socialist 7 September 2006:
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