A European Court of Auditors report made public last week implored the European Union, which provides $1.3 billion annually to the Palestinian Authority, to stop paying Palestinian civil servants that don’t show up to work. The report also underlined corruption concerns and warned that the aid could be illicitly supporting terrorists. Amid continued economic woes, Europeans are increasingly questioning the lavish aid.
The European Union is the world’s largest official donor to the Palestinians, with a large portion going to the internationally-recognized Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The institution has provided assistance to Palestine since 1971 and, since 1994 alone, has provided more than $7.6 billion in aid.
EU aid to Palestine has long been the target of controversy, including accusations of large-scale waste, corruption and claims that the money has been used to fund terrorism. According to research conducted by Palestinian Media Watch, Palestinian terrorists who spend more than five years in Israeli prisons continue receiving money after their release, much of which comes from aid funds provided by the EU.
While saying that European aid does help to relieve suffering, the report criticizes Europe for not using its financial leverage over the Palestinian Authority to push for more economic and political reforms and failing to crack down on corruption and misuse of funds. In one instance, auditors say that it was unclear what had happened to $124 million earmarked to keep Gaza's only power plant running, which shut down last month after running out of fuel.
Trucks carrying fuel for the Gaza Strip enter Rafah town through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on December 15, 2013. Israel began transferring fuel to Gaza's sole power plant, a Palestinian official said, as the Hamas-ruled enclave struggled to deal with massive flooding caused by winter downpours. AFP PHOTO/SAID KHATIB
Echoing long-standing concerns, the report also blasted bureaucrats in Brussels for paying too little attention to the fact that legal loopholes allow Palestinian authorities to use resources for funding personnel which are not eligible for EU money, including suspected terrorists. The EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, has also previously raised alarm about the lack of transparency and internal controls within the Palestinian Authority.
The most stunning criticism, however, was that Europe has financed the salaries of Palestinian Authorities in Gaza who have not reported to work for over six years. Some 61,000 civil servants and security force members in Gaza stopped showing up to work in 2007 when Islamic militants from Hamas ousted Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and set up a rival government.
[sharequote align="center"]Europe financed salaries of Palestinian Authorities in Gaza who haven't gone to work in six years.[/sharequote]
Confined to the West Bank, Abbas made the decision to continue paying the salaries of his formal civil servants on the condition that they do not work for the Hamas-led government set up in the wake of his government’s collapse.
While the EU’s stated aim in Palestine is to relieve civilian suffering, most of the aid money ends up lining bureaucrat’s pockets. Under a program known as Pegase, the European Union pays roughly 20 percent of the salaries of the Palestinian Authorities 170,000 civil servants, which includes the 61,000 still in Gaza.
In this Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 photo, Oday Alwadiya, 11, sits near his sister Seba, 3, on swing in the small yard of their family house in Gaza City. The Alwadiya extended family consist of 38 people living in a makeshift house next to a sewerage plant. About two-thirds of Gaza's population, some 1.7 million people, depends on aid to get by. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Despite the criticism, European and Palestinian leaders defended the program for political reasons. EU spokesman Peter Stano argued that, "the Palestinian Authority must continue supporting its workers in Gaza because this is a key element of maintaining the unity of the Palestinian state and allowing the Palestinian Authority to maintain a foothold in this territory."
With many Europeans struggling to make ends meet during an age of harsh austerity measures, the EU’s aid to Palestine has come under increasingly sharp criticism. Beyond purely economic concerns, political analysts have also said that the massive amounts of aid money is actually helping to fuel the conflict instead of promoting peace.
"Palestinians receive more assistance, per capita, than any other people on Earth, and live in one of its most violent spaces" writes Daniel Hannan in "The Telegraph," a British newspaper. The two are connected he thinks. "It is when they have time to sit and brood that their thoughts turn to bloodshed. A welfare state is thus the perfect terrorist habitat."
Palestinian children walk past militants of Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, during the funeral procession of one of their leaders, Judah Shamallah, in Gaza City on November 24, 2012. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
In the short-term, paying Abbas supporters to stay home in Gaza may keep them from working for the more hardline Hamas-led government, but comes at a heavy cost for European tax payers. The combination of weak institutions and the lack of oversight also means that the money is fueling corruption and even terrorist activities. Instead of trying to buy peace in the Middle East, Europe might get more bang for its buck from some old-fashioned diplomacy.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.