The following is an edited transcript of a Capitol Hill conference sponsored by the Middle East Policy Council on February 27, 1996, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Council President George McGovern was the moderator.
CONGRESSMAN LEE HAMILTON (D-IN), ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee
I often have thought to myself what a different world we would have had if George McGovern had been elected president in 1972. One of these days, when I return to the university, I'll write a Ph.D. thesis on that, I think, and speculate a little bit. George, we have appreciated your leadership in so many areas of domestic and international life in this country. And I want also to say that I think the Middle East Policy Council, over a period of several years now, has become a very important player in the development of Middle East policy. I and many of my colleagues respect very much what you do, and we look forward to your very active participation in these tough questions that abound in the Middle East.
It is a special pleasure to be here with Brian Atwood. Brian has one of the toughest jobs in Washington today and has done it extraordinarily well. At a time of diminishing resources, he is under more pressure than any AID administrator I've ever seen, and he has carried it off marvelously well.
Let me offer some general impressions of issues that you are all very familiar with, but impressions from my standpoint in the United States Congress that might add to the mix here, along with these distinguished panelists. The place to begin, obviously, is with the Middle East peace process. My impression is that it is a process that has had remarkable accomplishments, yet has great fragility to it. We have really seen quite remarkable accomplishments in several areas in the last few months. More, quite frankly, than I would have anticipated. And even though there have been some rough patches along the way, including one last Sunday in Israel [a suicide bombing], nonetheless, the process has moved forward and has succeeded to a remarkable degree.
You have a successful Jordanian Israeli treaty that is being implemented now, bringing down old barriers and leading to a remarkable expansion of Jordanian-Israeli ties. You have had a largely successful implementation of the Palestinian-Israeli agreement – the Oslo II interim agreement. Problems all along the way, of course, but overall, I think people judge it – I certainly do – as quite successful.
The creation of a Middle East Development Bank has gone forward. It hasn't had much support from the Gulf, lukewarm support from our friends in Europe, but nonetheless it is in place and will be an important institution.
There continues to be slow progress in other multilateral peace talks dealing with arms control and environment and water. And you certainly have expanding ties between Israel and the Arab world. You put all of this together, and it means quite a bit of progress. Let me mention one or two aspects of the peace process that need some highlighting.
One, with respect to the Palestinian Israeli talks, the changes are just staggering. Enormous changes have taken place here. In December 1995, ahead of schedule, Israel had removed its troops from all West Bank population centers except one, Hebron. And those withdrawals are scheduled to occur in a few weeks, in March.
The Palestinian Authority has assumed civil and security authority, similar to the authorities that it has exercised in Jericho and Gaza. Seventy percent of the Palestinians voted to elect 88 members of the Palestinian Council. We had a few hitches in those elections, but by and large they worked very, very well. And they confirmed and reinforced the Oslo II agreement. The whole process, I think, has succeeded.
The next step, a very crucial one, is the implementation of the agreement for the Palestinian National Council, or the Palestinian Authority, to reaffirm its determination to oppose terrorism and to amend the Palestinian covenant by removing the clause in that covenant calling for Israel's destruction. If the ace process is to continue, those particular provisions will have to be nullified. That is a political imperative in Israel, and it is a political imperative in the United States Congress. [The PNC subsequently voted to eliminate the offending provisions from a new covenant, to be drafted soon. – Ed.]
It is critical for the president to be able to certify in July, under the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act, that the Palestinians have met that key condition. Otherwise, assistance will cease. So this is the next step, and it is a critical one. Once that is resolved, of course, after the Israeli elections in May, you have the final status talks.
We all recognize the fragility of this process, and we were reminded again of it this weekend. There are a lot of things that can throw it off track: terrorist acts, the failure of Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, a lack of progress on joint security measures that are before us now, a failure to approve the charter revisions. You could look all around and see things that could sidetrack the peace process. But they have always been there, and the process has continued to go forward. And it is impressive progress.
Next you have to take a look at the Israeli peace talks with Syria. Very positive statements have been made, but we have not been able to tum those positive statements made by both parties into firm commitments. And getting an overall framework has been very elusive. I think Secretary Christopher has been there 17 times and has worked very, very hard to get these commitments, and has not yet succeeded. But he keeps working away at it, making progress each step of the way.
Still, the differences remain the extent of the withdrawals, the nature of the peace, the timetable, and the security arrangements. My guess is that these discussions will limp along now for a few months, until you get past the Israeli elections. And then the negotiations will pick up again.
I might just flag for you the problem that one aspect of these talks is going to have in the United States Congress. There is a very active effort now in the Congress to get members to agree not to support the placement of American troops on the Golan, if that is part of an agreement. The administration's position, as I understand it, is that we are prepared to consider putting U.S. military forces on the Golan if there is a peace agreement that has been reached, if both parties request that we be there, and after consultation with the Congress. The prospect of such a force on the Golan may seem distant at the moment, but it is going to come at us. And there already is a very active effort here on the Hill to get us to turn that down.
On Lebanon, I think it is fair to say that the Lebanese are very frustrated that their relationships have been held hostage to the progress between Syria and Israel. Their primary concern, at least as expressed to me at this point, is to try to get a lifting of the travel ban. That comes up every few months in the administration. So far the administration, because of security reasons and intelligence reports has been reluctant to lift the ban, but they do review it every few months. My own personal view is that it is probably time now to adjust that travel ban, maybe to remove it altogether. I hope we can move in that direction within the next few weeks.
Brian Atwood will be speaking with respect to aid levels, so I would just make one or two very quick observations. We have cut the foreign-aid budget dramatically, by about 40 percent in the last four or five years. It has been cut a much as any other account of government, I think. It was reduced by 10 percent this year. Even with all of those reductions, the Middle East accounts have stayed very steady. That is quite remarkable when you think of the hits that have been taken by other countries around the world.
Will that continue? I’ll let Brian predict that. But I think we have about hit the point where these funding restraints are going to have a profound impact on what we can do with regard to future agreements in the Middle East. I would say that if cuts re to occur – I see Egyptian ambassador here, and Egypt is probably a country that is going to have to take some cuts – I would hope that could be done in the context of reductions elsewhere as well, if they have to occur. My own personal view with regard to foreign aid is that we have cut it probably too much at this point. I really don’t want to cut it. We have a lot of additional claimants out there and worthy efforts. And if we are going to be able to give the present and secretary of state the kinds of tools they need to deal with foreign-policy problems around the world, we ought not to be cutting that foreign-aid budget any more.
Just a word about a couple of other things that are before us. Members are terribly frustrated up here with Iran. We have a bill that passed the Senate and is now pending in the House International Relations Committee, and a large number of members are constantly trying to think about ways and means of putting more pressure on Iran. We are unhappy with their conduct for a number of reasons. We are frustrated with our allies. We have had some mixed success, I think, in getting them to cooperate. But by and large, they continue to invest in Iran and to provide debt rescheduling.
So it is a pretty sure prediction that the bill that went through the Senate fairly easily will likewise go through the House, probably fairly soon. The administration supported that bill on the Senate floor until they added a provision with respect to Libya. There were some questions about it, and I am not sure just where they stand now. But I don’t have any doubt at all that in the House, if you have an amendment put forward, as we probably will at some point, to include Libya, it will certainly be adopted, and the bill will go forward.
The test, of course, of such a bill is whether or not it can be effective, given the position of our allies, whether it is consistent with our other international commitments, whether it can be enforceable under the circumstances, and whether it will hurt us more than Iran, which we always have to take into consideration with sanctions.
Let me just conclude with an observation or two about the Persian Gulf. Five years ago we had that remarkable event in the Gulf that led to the preventing of Iraq from taking over the Gulf. But stability in the Gulf still remains quite elusive. Saddam Hussein is still in power. What you may not be aware of is the remarkable military presence of the United States today in the Persian Gulf. Not too many years ago, we were talking about a force over the horizon. The countries of the Gulf did not want us there, but they wanted us nearby. No longer. We have 200 warplanes, 20 ships and 20,000 troops in the Persian Gulf. That means that the Gulf today is a major locus of American military power.
The region’s problems remain very much as they were before the war: economic disparities, territorial disputes, the regional bullies Iran and Iraq, and the events that occurred in regard to a breakthrough on the Arab-Israeli peace process. If I may express one disappointment, it is that the Gulf Cooperation Council still seems to be returning to the past. They have shown very little interest in common defense. They have shown no interest in solving their problems, so far as I can see. I think they have pretty well concluded that the United States and other oil consumers will protect the oil sources. And my view is that the domestic ills of those countries are the main threat to their security, certainly as much as external subversion or attack.
H. BRIAN ATWOOD, administrator, United States Agency for International Development
Because of both my longevity now in Washington and because of the position that I hold, running an agency whose main concern is long-term development, I believe we all ought to look at the Middle East with a long view. It is sometimes difficult, when the press focuses on the bumps in the road-and we have hit a very significant one in the last few days, as Lee Hamilton has said. It underscores the fragility of the entire process.
But the parties have indeed kept moving forward down this long road. And one of the reasons is that there has been more continuity in American foreign policy in the Middle East than in any other region of the world. This is not characteristic, as Tocqueville reminded everyone when he wrote his book about America and suggested that we might not be able to conduct a foreign policy that was characterized by persistence and patience.
But we have been persistent. We have been patient. We have understood the nuances of the Middle East. We have had more bipartisan involvement and support for the peace process in the Middle East than in any other area. There were some minor exceptions – when the Camp David accords were so successful and then the Reagan administration came in and hesitated a bit. We didn't follow up at that time, but then again, maybe the time wasn't right.
We were always aware of when the openings occurred. And we always, I trunk, had a basis for moving. People in government like Rocky Suddarth, Roy Atherton and Hal Saunders, and Sol Linowitz, who came in from the outside, understood exactly what could be done and were ready to move on the possible, taking advantage of people like Anwar Sadat, who had the courage to go to Jerusalem. Then, of course, we understood what openings we had after the Gulf War, the end of the Cold War, et cetera.
But there was something else that also supported the diplomacy of the Middle East, and that is that we made a commitment of resources. That commitment has meant a difference over time. We made a commitment to the Camp David accords, a commitment that we continue to hold to. And I'm pleased that we have done that.
I know there is controversy when you see the rest of the world's foreign-aid program being cut to the extent it has. But I think that when you consider the distribution of resources for international affairs, and I include defense resources, we need to continue to make those investments. Rather than looking at the Camp David commitment and suggesting that maybe we want to parcel that out prematurely to the rest of the world, we really ought to look at our interests in broader terms.
So the investments, it seems to me, have really made a difference. When Egypt and Israel signed an accord, I remember people expressing concern in the State Department that maybe Anwar Sadat had gone too far, that he was going to isolate Egypt in the Arab world, that maybe we needed to pull him back a bit and see if we could get Jordan to sign on before going forward. That wasn’t possible, so we took what was possible and went forward.
Egypt at the time certainly had a strong government, but did not necessarily have a strong society. There are many people who today look 20 years hence at Egypt and say, as I think President Mubarak himself would say, that we should move now more forcefully on economic reform, that we still have a fundamentalist threat in Egypt, that there is still not enough economic growth, not enough privatization in the economy. And I believe that the new Egyptian government is moving in the right direction. It is easy to criticize the American foreign-aid program and the partnership that we have had with Egypt. But look back at the last 20 years and see what has been accomplished.
Urban water and sanitation systems built or rehabilitated through AID projects serve some 22 million people in Egypt today. Thousands of primary schools have been constructed. Health care is available. Infant mortality rates have been cut in half. There has been an increase in agricultural production of 46 percent, and now Egypt is able to feed itself. It is just a tremendous success story. I hesitate to think what Egypt would be today if that investment had not been made over those years. It was a true investment in the peace process, and an investment in the development of Egypt.
From 1976 to 1995, 7 million births have been averted, thanks to the family-planning program, which has now been thoroughly adopted by the Egyptian government. By the year 2015, Egypt's population, we now estimate, as long as things continue to go forward with our family. planning programs, will be only 80 million people instead of 120 million. For every dollar we have spent on family planning, we estimate that there are $30 saved on expenditures that otherwise would have been needed for social services. And think about the difference in per capita incomes as a result of that.
That's why we emphasize family planning in our development programs. And believe me, the pressures that could have existed, the pressures that would have had to have been withstood by the Egyptian government of today would have been much greater had we not invested the money that we did in foreign assistance in Egypt. If you want to speculate, you could look at countries in the Middle East today that are really suffering, countries that have become homes for terrorism, like Iran and Iraq and Libya, and consider what Egypt might be today if it hadn't been for that investment.
We have been working also on the West Bank and Gaza. Dr. Roy is going to speak on this question later, so I won’t spend a lot of time. She has been working with us and we are very pleased that she has been. But we have been working with non-governmental organizations [NGOs] in the West Bank and Gaza since 1975 through a number of groups that are probably represented in this room. That has been an investment as well in the peace process.
Recently, I was with the vice president in the West Bank, and spent some time with a group called the Center for Political Research Studies. I don't know of a more vivid way to underscore the success of a peace process than to look at some of the polling that they have done in the West Bank and Gaza over the last year. In November 1994, more or less at the beginning of this process, they polled the Palestinian people and asked them a series of questions about their attitude toward the peace process. They asked whether they would support acts of violence against the state of Israel, and 57 percent said yes, they would.
That doesn't mean, of course, that they would actually undertake acts of violence-these are obviously done by a very small minority in the Palestinian community but that they would support acts of violence against the state of Israel. By September of 1995, less than a year later, as the election approached, only 18 percent supported violence against the state of Israel.
Why is there such a change? It is obvious that the people who live in the West Bank and Gaza saw some tangible benefits to themselves as a result of the peace process. Initially, they saw Arafat coming back. They saw the Israeli defense forces leaving Gaza. Ultimately, they saw the Israeli defense forces leave the West Bank. And they were very pleased that the peace process had produced a tangible result. So their attitude changed. And just prior to the election, 85 percent of these Palestinians said that they would vote for candidates that were supportive of the peace process.
Now clearly there is a struggle for power. Extrem1st elements continue to pursue their goals through violent means, as we have recently seen. But their support within the West Bank and Gaza is now limited. I believe that the number today would be a lot less than 18 percent who would support violence against the state of Israel.
We need to continue to make investments in that area if we are going to see the tangible benefits. We cannot bring Arafat back a second time. The Israeli defense forces have left, and I hope that they will not go back again. And we don't have the advantage of pulling them out to give people some idea that tangible successes and gains have been made from the peace process.
The next step is that they have to see jobs. The Palestinian society is much too tied to the Israeli economy. And each time that a terrorist act occurs in Israel, the borders are shut. People can't go to work, and that causes tensions within the society.
What we’re trying to focus on is to continue to work with these non-governmental groups and to work on the successful implementation of democratization programs in the West Bank and Gaza. We work on water and wastewater facilities, which are an important part of the lives of the people there. And we are obviously working to try to produce income for people.
We have been focusing recently on something we call industrial zones. Industrial zones are not the answer to everything. But it is in forcing the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to talk about creating successful industrial zone that the talks themselves have a very positive impact.
Industrial zones, to be successful, would need access to Israeli ports. They can’t just exist as an island sitting in the middle of Gaza. It obviously would involve creating the right kinds of environmental conditions sot that investment would occur within an industrial zone. And it would take a good deal of private sector investment to make that work. Obviously, peace at this point in time, as is underscored by what occurred the other day is much too dependent on the Palestinian people’s access to the Israeli economy.
What does the future hold? Clearly, we are going to have to look ahead, just as I have been looking back over the last 20 or 30 years, to the kinds of investments that will be needed to create an integrated economy within the Middle East. I happened to be sitting in the Knesset just a few weeks ago and talking to an Israeli who had opened a textile factory in Egypt. As Egypt’s economy opens up, there will be opportunities for others in the Middle East as well. And we need to think about how we can encourage the integration of the Middle East economy.
Does that mean investment in the Middle East Development Bank? Conceivably, I don’t know where the money will come from, but as we look at the Middle East, if we don’t deal with the need to create jobs and economic opportunity, then we are not really going to be supporting the peace process, as is essential, it seems to me.
Water and tourism: on the one hand, water can be the source of tension and negative consequences and perhaps an onslaught of war and the like. Tourism creates the opportunity for countries to work together. And that has happened between Israel and Egypt. It has happened now between Israel and Jordan and Egypt. It will happen with the Palestinians as well. And ultimately, we need to draw the Syrians and the Lebanese into this process.
So I commend those who have, over the years, worked on this long road toward where we are today – the diplomats of the United States, the diplomats of all of the countries of this region who have understood the nuances of the Middle East peace process, who have used patience and persistence in an understanding of the importance of continuity in the process, to bring us to the point where we are today.
But I also commend those who have been engaged in the development of the Middle East, those, like Terry Brown sitting over here, who worked when he was a young officer at AID on Syria, where we had a program. People forget that until about 1973, we were spending $60 million a year in Syria. One day, perhaps, we’ll begin making those kinds of investments again if there is a peace between Syria and Israel.
So it is the combination of diplomacy and persistence and the investment in resources, the investment in development in this region that I think as brought us to the point today where we can actually speculate that in the near future we will see a comprehensive peace agreement in this region.
Q: What do you think will happen in Israel if Binyamin Netanyahu is elected prime minister?
CONGRESSMAN HAMILTON: My judgement is that you'11 not see the same kind of push for the peace process that you have had under Labor leadership there in Israel. One of the things that has made quite an impression on me has been the deep, passionate, personal commitment of both Mr. Rabin and Mr. Peres to the peace process. They believe in it to the very core of their being. As Prime Minister Peres has often said, it is more important to get peace than it is to win an election, which reflects that passion. With the Likud leadership, you don't get that same sense at all. I don't think they would go back; I think the process now is too far along. But I would expect things to slow down quite a bit and you would see a very different approach to this whole process.
Q: Congressman, would you say a word about the issue of sanctions on Iraq, both dispensing of oil under the current resolution, which is being debated, and then ultimately the question of removal of sanctions.
CONGRESSMAN HAMILTON: I think Saddam Hussein's grip on Iraq remains very strong, except, of course, in certain parts of the country, the north and the south. And this recent action that he took when his sons-in-law returned just established once again for us the utter brutality of the regime. I think the United Nations is stymied at this point. They have had some considerable success in getting a reduction of the armaments in Iraq. But, at this point, I think there is great frustration because they do not feel they have full information about Iraqi capabilities, not just nuclear, but chemical and biological as well.
We support, of course, Operation Provide Comfort in Turkey. The developments in Turkey will bring into some question whether or not that operation will continue. With respect to the sanctions, my personal view is that they have to remain in place until you get full compliance. We would very much like to get an agreement to permit the sale of some of the oil so that the proceeds can be used to alleviate some of the humanitarian problems the Iraqis face. Our task is to keep the consensus behind the U.N. resolutions and to keep the pressure on. I think that is broadly supported now in the United Nations.
Q: Mr. Congressman, you stated that the domestic ills of the Arab Gulf countries are the main threat to their security. Is it possible, in your view, that in the foreseeable future, the United States could give as much support to democratization programs in the Arab world as we have to other areas in the Middle East?
CONGRESSMAN HAMILTON: I think Brian can speak to this, but my impression is that one of the themes that under lies much of our aid program is the support for democratization wherever we are engaged. You have to look at democratization in terms of the region. And I think here it is important not to have exaggerated expectations about the changes that will occur in these governments.
Nonetheless, I believe we ought to be on the side, through our rhetoric and through our aid Program, of supporting changes. By that I mean an opening up in these countries so that the governments become more accountable. I don't think we're going to have one man, one vote or one woman, one vote in these countries within the next few years. But I do hope that our voice and our pressure will be on the side of more openness and more accountability.
I would go further than that. I think if you do not begin to see these changes coming about – and you do see some changes now developing, and that is encouraging that you are going to see the inner tensions in these countries become very difficult to deal with.
I think change is in their interest, but we all know that managing change is an extremely difficult part of any government's responsibility. I want to see us on the side of openness. And I want to see us on the side of accountability. And I want to see us pushing and prodding and pressuring these countries to move in that direction because in the end, I believe the governments that are accountable, democratic governments, will be the best assurance of stability in the region.
Q: Congressman Hamilton, in the past 17 years, I have never heard a single American leader take into account the aspirations of the Iranian people. And what about the $20 million that Congress has authorized for the overthrow of the Iranian regime?
CONGRESSMAN HAMILTON: I think we have to be sensitive to the plight of the Iranian people. I don't know what constraints exist with regard to the Executive Branch in talking to Iranians. There aren't any with respect to members of Congress. And I hope that I would be available to you to learn more about the hardships of the Iranian people. Let me simply observe that if you look back over the last decade or two, there isn't any country in the world that has caused more trouble for the United States than Iran. American politicians have had that pretty deeply embedded in their heads.
With respect to the nonsupport-and that is putting it kindly-of the peace process, the gathering of weapons of mass destruction, the treatment of their own people, the violation of human rights and all the rest, and, of course, the capture of our hostages some years ago, this country has been terribly difficult for the United States to deal with. And for at least two American presidents and maybe three, it has been the major foreign-policy problem: Mr. Reagan with Iran-Contra and Mr. Carter with the hostages. This is deeply embedded, and I don't think there 1s any country that has a greater animosity towards it in the Congress than Iran right now. We have got to try to break down some of these barriers. I hope some of us, including myself, will tie receptive to that. But this is a very difficult problem for American politicians to deal with because of recent history.
Q: Congressman, it is obvious that Israel has expectations of $10 billion to $15 billion more for giving up the Golan. What is going be the reaction from the Congress?
CONGRESSMAN HAMILTON: They have expectations of a large amount of additional assistance from us with respect to the Golan? The first question that pops into any member's mind is, Where is it going to come from? We just are not in creasing these resources. At the end of the day, however, we seem to be able to find the resources we need. (Laughter) One way or the other, and sometimes it's the other, we find it.
I believe with respect to the possibility of American troops on the Golan, that if the American president, whoever he might be, puts it on the line and says to the United States Congress that the whole peace effort collapses unless we put American forces on the Golan, that it is being requested by both parties, in the end we'll find a way to do it. That's my belief. I have said to the administration that they had better get cranked up on this issue because there are strong elements in the country and in this city to day that are working to defeat that possibility, even though it is a difficult thing for the administration to deal with right now because you don't have a specific agreement or a proposal with specificity.
But Brian made a very good point here, I thought, in his observations about the continuity of U.S. policy and the bi partisan support for it. This country has invested huge amounts of time and energy and resources in the Middle East. Can you imagine any problem taking a secretary of state's time to the point of 17 trips to deal with a bilateral problem between Israel and Syria? That 1s just mind boggling. Is it worthwhile? I think it is. Some might disagree. If you get a president of the United States putting forward a proposal to the Congress saying this Middle East peace process and all of the work we have invested in it for 20, 30 years will collapse unless American troops go on to the Golan, we'll approve it.
PETER GUBSER, president. American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA)
The subject of this paper is civil society in Middle Eastern socioeconomic development. The discussion is in two parts: (1) a definition of civil society and its role in development and (2) suggestions on how donors should direct assistance to the Middle East, especially with respect to civil society.
It is helpful to define the key terms and put them in their context. Cohen and Arato in their seminal work Civil Society and Political Theory define civil society as "...a sphere of social interaction be tween economy and state, composed above all of the intimate sphere (especially the family), the sphere of associations (especially voluntary associations [i.e., NGOs]), social movements, and forms of public communication." On the one hand, they distinguish civil society from political society (parties, parliament, etc.) and economic society (organizations of production, partner ships, etc.). On the other, they insist that the elements of civil society are not of the informal type, but only those that are institutionalized or in the process of being so.1
Taking the subject from a slightly different perspective, Mustapha K. al-Sayyid of Cairo University fays down three minimal conditions that must be met before it can be said that civil society exists: "the presence of formal organizations of various types among different social groups and classes; an ethic of tolerance and acceptance by the majority of minority legitimate rights, no matter how such minorities are defined; and limitations on arbitrary exercise of state authority.”2
Both studies would agree that NGOs may exist irrespective of whether or not society is civil. And neither is asserting that a state should establish a laissez faire environment for NGOs. They would both likely agree with John Keane when he states: “Democratization is neither the outright enemy nor the unconditional friend of state power. It requires the state to govern civil society neither too much nor too little, [because] while a more democratic order cannot be built through state power, it cannot be built without state power.”3 From a slightly different perspective, this view of government party meets one of Sayyid's criteria that society has to be tolerant. In the above sense, the state can help in this, but it cannot guarantee it. But also, the state is not necessarily just a hindrance or possibly a neutral force with respect to the existence of civil society. The state can contribute to its existence.
One of the most important components of civil society is the NGO. NGOs are formal associations of different kinds found among the various classes of society. More broadly, they are community, regional and national groups that bring together people for purposes of rendering services, solving community problems, observing religious belief, cultivating social and cultural pursuits, and communicating ideas in the community, regional, national or transnational arena. Where they exist, they serve as a place where people combine their energies to resolve problems and address issues such as health care, job creation for the poor and deprived, education and rehabilitation of the handicapped. They may also focus on such subjects as respect for human rights, population and demographic issues, the environment, and civil rights.
But the role of NGOs is greater than just the function or ideals each pursues. They also contribute mightily to society as a whole. First, because many work at the grass roots, they are often m a propitious position to reach the deprived of nation, region and village. Thus, they play a significant role in social and economic development. They are also part of the essential social safety net.
Second, they help give structure to society beyond the family level. They provide formal groups that people can relate to, participate m, and benefit from. As formal organizations, they help the society produce leaders not only for civil society but also for the political and economic arenas.
Third, NGOs, help develop and sustain democracy. One cannot argue that civil society and NGOs produce democracy. However, the existence of civil society is associated with the existence of democracy. We are not aware of any democracy with success over time that has not also enjoyed a flourishing civil society.
Now let us tum to the grass-roots perspective on development in the Middle East, in the current context of the transition to peace.
Although some players pay attention to the grass roots, i.e., the role and interests of civil society and NGOs (or private voluntary organizations, PVOs) in development and the peace process, the focus is mostly on governments and economies. This is natural. It is governments that are making peace with each other. It is economies that are going to have to make structural changes so that they can relate to each other in peace rather than conflict. The World Bank, the multilateral organizations, and bilateral donors relate for the most part to governments. Indeed the World Bank's development plan for Palestine, for example, is largely government-focused or economy-focused.
I would argue that this is not sufficient. Peace is not made just between states or just through adjustments in economies but between people, among people. How are the people involved except through governments and economies? The response, naturally, is that NGOs and civil society must be integrated into the process. In other words, we have to get to the grass roots. If his peace is to succeed, they must be part of the process.
The grass roots’ or NGOs’ involvement in the development and peace processes can be divided into three components: promotion of confidence-building for peace and stability; fostering sustainable development and open political systems; and encouraging regional cooperation and integration.
With respect to each of these components, the suggestions found below are based upon the needs of the process and the capabilities of the NGOs. They are not exhaustive, but rather suggestive of what might be done. With respect to each area of activity, the NGO might play the role of facilitator, communicator, implementer. The NGO might relate to NGOs in other countries or work in partnership with government. Or they may seek to influence government.
1. Promotion of confidence-building for peace and stability: In view of past hostilities and continuing tensions among diverse political, ethnic and religious groups in the region, initiatives that break down suspicion and promote dialogue between diverse groups will be mandatory for building a sustainable peace and re crucial for development. Attention of those involved in Middle East development should be paid to the efforts of NGOs in the region, including peace groups religious institutions, human-rights groups, labor unions, professional organizations, and other organizations that facilitate dialogue between diverse groups with the objective of encouraging tolerance and mutual support. Citizens groups can help in the process of people-to-people communication.
Attention should also be paid to measures designed to facilitate reconciliation and mutual cooperation, such as design of educational curricula that avoid stereotypes; introduction of cross cultural living-learning experiences such as summer camps for children; joint education, research and study projects in Palestine, other Arab countries, Israel and abroad; and joint teacher-training projects, medical exchanges and vocational projects.
2. Support of sustainable development initiatives within the countries of the region: One of the most serious threats to building sustainable peace and stability in the Middle East is the economic despair and hopelessness of so many of its people. According to World Bank data, one out of four people lives in poverty. Only 57 percent of adults are literate, partly as a result of low female literacy (45 percent), associated with the low status of women in much of the region. One out of five children is underweight. Seventy-nine percent of people have access to safe water, but only 62 percent have access to sanitation. On average, women in the Middle East bear 4.9 children, more than in all other developing regions except sub-Saharan Africa. Yet only 13 percent of all economic aid to the region currently is spent on basic education, primary health care, safe drinking water, sanitation, nutrition and family planning.
We are suggesting that NGOs continue doing what they are doing and that governments and international donors help them by providing the funding and policy environment for them to do so. Some suggested initiatives at the grassroots level involve human-resource development in education and health, particularly for women, and in institution building, to foster leadership and problem-solving skills.
Some areas of the Middle East – Israel, Jordan and Palestine – are rich in non-governmental organizations; in other countries NGOs are weak and constrained. Where they exist, NGOs serve as for a where people come together to resolve problems and address practical issues such as health care, job creation, education, rehabilitation of the handicapped, and the provision of agricultural inputs. From still another standpoint, NGOs are the incubators of democracy, providing structure for democratic society and a place where citizens can learn the necessary skills for such a society. It is important that policy environments i.e., open and accessible political systems-be created in which these organizations can freely function.
A special note is warranted with respect to Palestine. While its NGOs have survived a difficult transition period, their future environment is unknown. Palestine has the opportunity to create an open, tolerant society along the lines of a liberal democracy. The development community should strongly urge that the Palestinian authorities opt for this model for the sake of its positive benefits for civil society as well as its contribution to the development and sustenance of democracy.
3. Support of initiatives to strengthen national economies and encourage regional economic integration: Successful development as well as sustainable peace depend on regional cooperation to develop the basis for a shared existence, stimulate economic growth, and protect the natural resource base. Regional cooperation is important both as a means for solving regional problems and as a process by which people and countries in the region can learn to work together in mutually supportive ways.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has had a devastating economic impact in much of the region. In addition to diverting resources to military purposes, the conflict has generated myriad economic restrictions and regulations, boycotts, closed borders and other actions that have prevented or distorted economic relations. The peace process provides an opportunity both for integrating the region economically and for stimulating increased trade and other economic relationships.
Economists point out that the assets of countries in this region complement each other in terms of availability of capital and labor, agricultural and manufacturing capacity, and natural resource endowment. These complementary endowments offer opportunities for more efficient use of resources, expansion of regional markets, and joint production enterprises or environmental conservation activities. Many activities under this category may only be appropriate for governments. In some areas, civil society and NGOs, ranging from the community to the national level, can play a positive role. Some possibilities for the international donors to support are the following:
1) Regional development institutions, as determined by the countries in the region. Support might take the form of creating a regional development bank, as well as providing resources for its development activities. Such an institution could serve both as a mechanism for mobilizing and channeling external resources to the region and as a locus in which countries m the region could work together to solve problems. Interested NGOs can play an advocacy role with respect to this possibility.
2) Regional infrastructure initiatives, such as water-resource development and management, electric power grids, highways, ports and communications systems. There is broad agreement that water resource development and management must be a top regional priority. In a region where most countries already suffer from water scarcity and the population is expected to double in the next 40 years, sustainable economic development and long-term political stability are both closely linked to availability of water. Financial and technical resources will be needed for initiatives to increase the supply, as will diplomatic encouragement of regional agreements to regulate use. Other regional infrastructure initiatives would also serve to link more closely the countries of the region. Not only are these of interest to governments and business; the development and advocacy NGOs are engaged on many of these issues.
3) Development of regional trading and labor-exchange blocs (like the Benelux arrangement of a few decades ago involving Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). The ace process opens up the possibility of lifting restrictions and encouraging the free flow of trade, capital and labor across borders in the Middle East. In view of the fact that economies complement each other in important respects, working toward the Benelux model offers important opportunities for economically strengthening both the region as a whole and also the national economies of individual countries. NGOs should try to make certain that popular interests are addressed, so that the people are not just rolled over by economic interests. Conversely, NGOs can play a beneficial role in educating the people about the benefits of free trade.
4) Activities to protect natural resources. The Middle East has the lowest proportion of arable land of any region of the world-4.5 percent of total land area. It also has the smallest forest area – 4 percent – yet the highest annual rate of deforestation of any region. It has the least amount of renewable water resources per person of any region, yet it withdraws 68 percent of its renewable fresh-water resources annually, again more than any other region. Tensions in the Middle East have resulted in intense competition over natural resources, with no integrated management or conservation planning. Joint action is sorely needed to protect and manage dwindling resources, especially water; to combat desertification; to fight pollution of air and water; to address population pressures; and to protect animal and plant life.
Grass-roots organizations, NGOs and other units of civil society can and do make a major contribution to the overall society in normal times of slow evolution. In this period of rapid transition to peace and the need for development, their role will be especially valuable. Not only can they make the peace and development processes more user-friendly; they can also make them better. In a complementary manner, NGOs can be instrumental in ensuring that the process is not dependent on just one regime or one person. With the involvement of civil society, the process has a broader base and thus a greater possibility of succeeding. NGOs have proved in the past that they improve lives, and they will be able to do so in the future.
SARA ROY, research scholar Harvard University Center for Middle East Studies; author of The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development
I am here to discuss U.S. economic assistance to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the subject of my doctoral dissertation at Harvard and an area of interest and research for the past ten years. My presentation is divided into three parts: economic and social conditions in the Gaza Strip, the territory with the most acute problems; how the USAID program addresses and does not address the problems described; and priorities for Palestinian development.
U.S. economic assistance to the West Bank and Gaza began in 1975 with $1 million; between 1975 and 1991, U.S. aid to the occupied territories averaged around $8 million annually. With the signing of the Oslo accord in September 1993, U.S. assistance to the Palestinians assumed new dimensions and heightened significance since it became a critical component of the peace process. (Thus, the defining context for U.S. assistance is political not developmental.) Following the signing of the accord, the U.S. government pledged $75 million annually of USAID resources for five years for direct economic assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In August 1994, a USAID mission was established in Israel to implement the program.
The key questions in this, as in other assistance efforts, are: What is the relationship between USAID's objectives and the needs of the West Bank and Gaza? Is there a good fit? Could there be a better one? What are the program's priorities? According to what criteria were priorities derived? How are finite resources being allocated?
The greatest threats to stability and peace in the region are unemployment, poverty and hunger, physical and mental illness, illiteracy, and declining educational standards and access. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, economic and social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza have, in certain critical respects, substantially deteriorated in the more than two years since the Oslo agreement was signed. Arguably, Palestinians are living m a state of economic and social decline never before experienced. I am going to focus my discussion on the Gaza Strip since conditions there are most acute.
Economic and Social Conditions in the Gaza Strip
The Gaza Strip is 140 square miles-28 miles long and 5 miles wide-with a population of 900,000. Population density stands, conservatively, at 11,000 people per square mile. The population grows at a rate of 5.1 percent and will double in 15 years. Almost 50 percent of the population is 14 years old and younger, and approximately 10,000 workers are added to the labor force each year.
The most urgent problem facing the Gaza Strip is unemployment, which now approaches 50 percent (30-35 percent for both territories). During almost 30 years of its rule, the Israeli government, through direct and deliberate policy, made the Gazan labor force extremely dependent upon employment in Israel while Gaza's own domestic economy was severely constrained and weakened. Between 1970 and 1987, for example, the number of Gazans entering Israel to work rose from 10 percent of the labor force to over 70 percent. In 1970, external sources of income, which include salaries earned in Israel, contributed 2 percent of Gaza's GNP; in 1987, 42 percent. Because of this history and the neglect of local development, the opportunity to work in Israel is not a reward but a right and a necessity.
Between December 1987 and April 1995, the number of Gazans working in Israel fell from 80,000 to no more than 10,000. By October 1995, the number of workers had increased slightly, to 12,900. This month the number was supposed to increase to 23,000. The decline in employment and the devastating economic damage that has resulted are due to a series of Israeli measures that began during the intifada. Today, the single most dam aging measure is the border closing, now an economic fact of life. The closures have been imposed both as a security measure and as part of a changed economic policy toward the territories. In addition to the closures, the Israeli government has imposed several sealings of the border (total closures), the latest of which occurred just three days ago in response to the terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem. During a total closure, movement of any kind is completely restricted. In the last two years alone, 20,000 Gazan jobs in Israel were eliminated, costing Gaza's economy at least $25 million per month in wages and related services, a loss that cannot be recreated domestically. According to the World Bank, the Palestinian economy loses almost $3 million a day in wages earned by the Palestinian work force in Israel, which amounts to over $600 million annually, more than all 1995 pledges by the donor community. Gaza's per capita GNP is now $750, half its 1987 level, and well below the average for all less-developed countries (83 percent of the world's population), which stands at $950.
Closure and unemployment have directly contributed to growing levels of poverty especially in Gaza. At least 14 percent of all Palestinians, or 300,000 people, now live at or below an absolute poverty level of between $500 and $650 per capita annually (the Israeli poverty line, by contrast, stands at $2500 per capita annually). "Absolute" poverty is based on what it costs to sustain one person for one year. In regional terms, the number of permanently poor breaks down to 20 percent of Gaza's population and 10 percent of the West Banks. (One year ago according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA], the number of permanently poor in Gaza equaled 12 percent of the total population. Hence, the level of impoverishment appears to be growing.) By some estimates, at least one-third of the poor were forced into poverty in the period since the Oslo accord was signed. It should also be noted that the 14 percent poverty figure is probably low because poverty tends to be underreported given the social safety net provided by extended family and friends and poor statistical data gathering. Lower-income and impoverished Gazans constitute the majority of the population.
Help is available from just a few sources-the Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs and UNRWA are the two largest assistance providers. Yet the number of poor exceeds by 74 percent the number of families benefiting from Ministry and UNRWA programs. Not surprisingly, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Planning, the average Gazan family now spends almost 60 percent of its monthly income (excluding rent and mortgage) on food. Of the remainder, only 1 percent is spent on health care and 3 percent on education. These are conservative estimates. Other sources place the percentages much higher.
Adding to the-burden of unemployment, declining incomes and growing impoverishment is the steady rise in the price of food and other commodities. For example, in Gaza, between December 1994 and December 1995, the cost of poultry increased by 14 percent, sugar by 22 percent, flour by Z7 percent, tea by 32 percent, eggs by 42 percent, and fish by 51 percent. Since almost 90 percent of Gaza's imports come from Israel, rising price levels m Israel have a direct impact on prices in Gaza. Israeli security policies also have a direct impact on price levels. Yet, since the per capita GNP in Israel is $15,000 and in Gaza $750, each price increase has a much more harmful effect on the Gazan consumer than on his Israeli counterpart. Simply put, Gazans are finding it harder and harder to feed their children.
While the Gaza Strip has always been poor, basic survival was seldom a problem. This is slowly changing as the number of families who cannot adequately feed their children increases. In May 1995, for example, one hundred babies in Gaza city and Jabalya refugee camp were suffering from marasmus, an extreme form of malnutrition. In Ansar 3, the detention center in the Negev desert, prisoners reportedly smuggle food out to their relatives during family visits.
This unprecedented hardship has few immediate solutions. Salaries earned in Israel and through employment in the Palestinian Authority (PA) are among the few available options. In March 1995, the Authority employed close to 40,000 people; nearly half were police and security officials. By August 1995, the number increased to almost 50,000. While government salaries are critical to the local economy, their impact on it, like that of the wages earned by Gazan workers in Israel, is largely non-productive, and the salaries are often not enough to live on.
For some time, prior to the Oslo agreement certainly, Gazan society has also been deteriorating, a result of un abated economic dissolution and political repression. This deterioration, still unabated, is characterized by the erosion of critical support structures and mediatory institutions such as the extended family, the school, and the political faction and the breakdown of the community as a social actor.
Of crucial importance to social order is the mental health of the population, a major problem that remains largely un addressed. The psychological effects of disorder, violence and deprivation should not be underestimated, especially among Gazans. After six years of intifada, it is no exaggeration to say that to varying degrees, everyone in Gaza is traumatized. Without question, children have been the most severely affected. Close to 70 percent of the Gaza Strip population is 24 years of age and younger and have known nothing but occupation.
Between 1992 and 1993 the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP) surveyed nearly 3,000 Palestinian children aged 8-15 and found an extraordinarily high rate of exposure to violence: 93 percent had been tear gassed; 85 percent had had their homes raided; 55 percent had witnessed their fathers beaten; 42 percent had been beaten themselves; 31 percent had been shot; 28 percent had had a brother imprisoned; 19 percent had been detained; 3 percent had suffered a death in the family; and 69 percent had been exposed to more than four different types of trauma. For years many children in Gaza had neither home nor classroom, two critical venues of socialization. The impact has been profound. Psychiatrist Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, founder of the GCMHP, reported in early 1995 that 40,000 children were in need of some form of immediate psychiatric care.
Exacerbating the problem, and illustrative of it at the same time, is the declining state of education in Gaza. Severe classroom overcrowding and deteriorating facilities are commonly cited problems. As critical, if not more, is the rapidly declining quality of classroom instruction due to poor teacher training. With 18,000 new entrants to the educational system each year, the lack of appropriately trained teachers is an extremely serious problem.
Historically, Palestinians have always been known as the most educated people in the Arab world. For those in the occupied territories, this is no longer true. According to UNESCO, literacy rates in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are now lower than those in Jordan and Kuwait. At all levels of the educational ladder, children are below the achievement level of the grades they are in. Another UNESCO study, comparing 3 developing countries in math and science achievement and aptitude found that Palestinian secondary students in the West Bank and Gaza scored 32 to 34 out of the 35 developing countries sampled. Furthermore, access to higher education also has been dramatically curtailed. The closure has made it difficult and often impossible for Gaza students to travel to West Bank universities, let alone to universities in other Arab countries, where free education for Palestinians has been virtually eliminated. Behavioral and disciplinary problems are so common that Palestinian police are required in some classrooms. Eroding economic conditions have made it difficult for many parents to purchase basic school supplies for their children.
The USAID Program: Strengths and Weaknesses
The USAID program thus far has been focused on producing immediate, highly visible results. The focus has been short term, and funds have been allocated to support the startup costs of the Palestinian Authority, small-scale infrastructure, housing and shelter, and school rehabilitation. A new, longer-term strategy is being designed that aims to produce tangible benefits of the peace process. The latter focuses on four general areas: democracy and governance, water, expanded income opportunities and selected short-term development. Of these four areas, 70 percent of funds in FY 1996 will be channeled into projects dealing with democracy and governance (31 percent) and infrastructural projects in water (39 percent).
Some of the areas targeted by USAID are very important to local development: the rehabilitation of storm water and wastewater infrastructure in Gaza is needed, as is increasing the quantity and quality of water at the village and municipal levels in the West Bank. Similarly, improving services and working to enhance the productive capacity of small businesses and microenterprises is particularly important given the growing informalization of the economy.
Furthermore, given the lack of attention paid to the population in the refugee camps, support for shelter rehabilitation through UNRWA is extremely important, of great impact, and is greatly valued by the people. The rehabilitation and construction of new schools is also of importance given double and triple shifting, and the after-school recreation program funded by USAID is very popular since it provides children with the rare opportunity to play in a structured and safe environment.
The main problem of the USAID program is its lack of emphasis on developing human resources, the area's primary if not sole asset. In my view, this is a critical and dangerous fading. In USAID's new, longer-term strategy, there is little if any attention paid to educational reform, mental health rehabilitation, health reform generally and the long-term alleviation of poverty. The emphasis remains on infrastructure, not on people, on employment generation through reconstruction and renovation. While immediate results are important, and it clearly helps the peace process to have tangible, visible improvements such as better sewage systems, these are not as important as sustained employment, adequate food, and access to quality educational and health services.
The Gaza Strip is a tiny, circumscribed piece of land with few if any natural resources and a burgeoning population that has limited economic and social opportunities. Picture the tiny is land of Martha's Vineyard, only slightly smaller than the Gaza Strip, but whose population is only l percent of Gaza's. Picture this island with almost a million people, water resources so limited that significant portions of the population have no running water whatsoever, not enough land, wholly inadequate health and educational services, and weak institutions. Now imagine that the economy is lacking in domestic jobs, the industrial sector is minuscule, the agricultural sector is limited and waning, and trade is highly constrained. Further imagine you have to make your living in these conditions with virtually no way off the island. This is the Gaza Strip. If we do not invest in Gaza's people, sewage systems will be of little impact despite the fact that they are needed.
Priorities for Palestinian Development There are three critical priorities for development that currently receive relatively little support from USAID: education, mental health rehabilitation (and healthcare generally) and poverty reduction. In education, there is a desperate need for teacher training, vocational and appropriate skills training (which would help alleviate poverty), curriculum reform, and materials and supplies at all levels of the formal and informal education systems. While there is no question that new school facilities are needed, so are properly trained teachers and appropriate curriculums. A well-trained teacher, like a well-trained physician, can achieve a great deal more in a mediocre facility than a poorly trained teacher can achieve in a state-of-the-art facility. Furthermore, as we approach the end of the twentieth century, it is very clear that no economy, especially one as small as Gaza's and the West Bank's, can flourish if it does not have a competitive work force. The Palestinian work force is in desperate need of appropriate skills training. According to George Abed of the International Monetary Fund, the great demand for unskilled workers in Israel "served to distort the Palestinian worker's disposition to acquire advanced education, professional training, or higher skills. There has therefore been a considerable 'de-skilling' of Palestinian manpower under occupation." This deskilling has dramatically lowered the standards of educational attainment and professional development among Palestinians over the last 27 years.
In 1995, the education sector received at most only 7.2 percent of Palestinian public investment. The Palestinian Ministry of Education and the Council for Higher Education have no budget and rely almost entirely on international fundraising, a huge percentage of which is provided by the European Union (EU). However, much more is needed.
There is an equally urgent need for mental health rehabilitation programs that are specifically. tailored to need and group (women, children, men, family). The need for individual therapy among young children is particularly acute. Family and peer counseling are also essential, as is the training of mental health workers. The health sector generally received only 3.2 percent of Palestinian public investment in 1995 with nothing for mental health specifically. Mental health is grossly underfunded by donors overall.
Another critical component of human-resource development is the strengthening and preservation of Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), historically the backbone of economic development in the West Bank and Gaza and a key provider of social services, particularly in early childhood education and health. The Palestinian NGO community (as well as the community of U.S. PVOs that works directly with it) is currently under mounting pressure-some would say, attack from the PA and indirectly from the donor community. In many cases, direct financial support has been redirected, i.e. withdrawn, and in others, reduced. USAID has reduced support as well. This has forced some Palestinian NGOs to close or reduce the level of their services. In the Gaza Strip and West Bank, this has resulted in the elimination of badly needed kindergartens, nursery schools, daycare centers, health clinics, women's cooperatives, community centers, youth centers, sports clubs, etc.
A particularly poignant example is that of the Society for the Care of the Handicapped (SCH) in Gaza City. This organization, historically the only Palestinian NGO to receive money directly from USAID, provided a range of top quality services through 13 different and highly praised programs to Gaza's physically and mentally disadvantaged population and to those children considered "at risk" (non-handicapped in the traditional sense). A large portion of its activities were funded by USAID grants. These grants supported 246 employees (each employee supports, on average, a family of seven) and provided services to 5,000 children. Last year, as part of an overall shift in the donor community toward funding projects that produce immediate and visible results, USAID allocations to the Society were cut by $1 million, mid-cycle. As a result, 134 employees more than half of whose salaries were paid by USAID funds-lost their jobs and 2,890 children lost desperately needed services.
Through SCH programs, approximately 2,000 children considered "at risk" had been raised from the twentieth percentile of cognitive function to the eightieth. Now these and other children, Gaza's next generation of adults, have no services whatsoever. USAID's new strategy, furthermore, eliminates all assistance to the SCH, which will deny an additional 1,300 children services and force 112 more adults into joblessness. Not only does the SCH have a proven track record of success over the last decade, and its programs are currently being replicated m Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, SCH services have had a direct, tangible and long-term impact on Gaza's population. The fact that USAID will terminate funding to this institution is not only shameful but misinformed. I might add that when the director of the SCH appealed directly to President Arafat for help, he was denied.
This highlights a key aspect of the dissolution that is occurring at the social level: work at the grass roots, done so effectively for over 15 years by Palestinian NGOs and mass-based organizations, with the assistance of U.S. and other foreign PVOs, is declining rapidly. One result is the breakdown of the community since links with the masses are weakening in favor of airports, hotels and high-rise apartment buildings. Yet, it is at the grass-roots level where the majority of people live and where they are most vulnerable. The insecurity of the individual before the system is growing, not diminishing. If support for the NGO community 1s not increased, particularly against attacks from the PA, a critical resource of development will be lost with direct implications for political stability. It is simply not possible to build a house on a weak foundation, and there should be no doubt that in Gaza today the social foundation is weak. In this regard, the establishment by the World Bank of an NGO Trust Fund is very positive and encouraging.
The alleviation of poverty is a more complex issue but addressable. First, it is important to assure sources of support for families without the capacity to earn a living and who cannot benefit from the labor market. Second, poverty reduction is directly linked to general economic and social reform, which are dependent upon the following: a long-term development strategy that aims toward creating sustainable employment. This in tum will require an end to restrictive Israeli polices, especially the closure, and the establishment of a viable legal and regulatory environment by the Palestinian Authority, which has yet to emerge and that would encourage and support private-sector development and foreign in vestment. Without private-sector development, economic growth cannot proceed. Indeed, 85 percent of all production in the territories is in the private sector. Long-term employment will also require the formulation of a strategy for sustainable economic and social reform that does not as yet exist.
Hence, the impact of USAID projects of short-term job creation will ultimately prove meaningless unless the closure of the Gaza Strip and West Bank is removed. Removing the closure would mean that USAID could focus its considerable capacity on creating long-term sustainable employment, an objective that can only be achieved when a more rational, predictable and stable economic environment is created. At present, such an environment cannot be found. Currently, USAID's efforts as well as those of other donors, in both the short and long term, are designed to minimize the damaging effects of the closure rather than end it. This approach, which the current political environment imposes, will not work over the long term. It is a Band-Aid that will tear. Israeli security is far more threatened by a hungry, frustrated population on its borders than by open borders that would allow that population to live a decent, normal life. When that happens, terrorism will stop.
Despite some positive changes that one can visibly and clearly identify (housing, tiled sidewalks, cleaned streets, 10,000 short-term jobs in housing, new schools), the arbiters of development in Gaza and the West Bank as well as many Palestinians themselves may be embracing a pattern that, if left unexamined, could lead to more violence. The allocation of economic assistance does not have to be a zero-sum game. It is less a question of right or wrong and more a question of priority. The only way to ad dress the problems I have described is through economic assistance, but there is a need to reprioritize objectives according to what will have the greatest impact on internal order. While USAID is working in some areas where there is clear need, they are doing so to the exclusion of areas where there is more need, areas that are more crucial, in the long-term, to social and political stability. In a context of finite financial resources, a better balance of priorities should be achieved. Aid should be less focused on producing visible results and more focused on producing meaningful results.
Powerlessness does not equal ignorance. The majority in Gaza have lived under highly adverse conditions for most if not all of their lives. They have an acute awareness of the causes of their condition. They have managed to survive daily assaults of all kinds, raise their families, educate their children, preserve their culture. These achievements are not to be underestimated or dismissed. These people cannot be persuaded of peace or convinced of its merit with buildings and sewage systems alone. What is far more important is whether they and their children are being helped to live normal lives. Sadly, the community in Gaza is quickly losing its spirit and its resources and needs desperately to be rebuilt. How this rebuilding proceeds, if it proceeds, will not only determine the Palestinians' future social and economic possibilities but those of the region as well.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: As the peace process unfolds, might you see some necessity of using the Camp David investments in a broader context to meet more of the regional challenges?
MR. ATWOOD: Yes, I do see that possibility. When the time comes that we have a comprehensive peace, then I think everyone is going to be more than prepared to sit down and discuss these kinds of issues. In fact, a very healthy discussion is going on within the Congress, with the Israeli government, with the Egyptian government. There is a realization that the Camp David investments, at the levels that they are now, are not going to continue beyond the comprehensive peace agreement. But then again, there will be new resources needed for the Middle East as well. I think there will be an interest in redirecting some of the resources that we are discussing.
Let me comment as well on the points that Sara Roy has made, points that I do not have any fundamental disagreement with. When I was listening to her, in probably the most devastating critique that I've heard of our program, and agreeing with most of what she said, I really thought back to what I think Lee Hamilton said about the difficult job that I have; there is very little way to win when you are the AID administrator.
Immediate and visible results-I think those of you who understand the Middle East peace process understand why there is a dynamic within foreign ministries around the world that are participating in this process, including our own, to make sure that we can achieve those immediate and visible results. I think you have heard today the kinds of arguments that development agencies put forward when they are attempting to hold back those who want to see buildings built and airports and, as you said, apartment buildings and the like go up. I didn't hear a lot of criticism about the kinds of things that we are doing. What I heard was what we are not doing and what we have stopped doing. And a lot of those decisions were regrettable, in particular, the organization that you mentioned that is serving people to the extent that it is.
But think about it in broader terms. The $75 million that we are investing in the West Bank and Gaza-not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well (it is spread slightly more in that region than it is just in Gaza) – has also come out of the pockets of poor countries in Africa and Latin America and Asia. This is the zero sum game that we are playing in terms of our foreign-aid budgets more generally around the world today. It is very, very unfortunate. It does not serve American interests. It doesn't serve the interest of building human capacity in other parts of the world.
We have made great strides in working in the areas that Sara mentioned, around the world. We understand that the key to the future is working at the grassroots level. It is working to educate children, to assure that they have health care and that eventually, as they become adults, that there is a growing economy and that they have jobs.
We do need, obviously, to do the things that we are doing. I think that the investments that we have made in nongovernmental organizations and in work related to the creation of a civil society have been helpful over the years, as I mentioned. I think the work we're doing in the area of water and waste-water treatment is having an important impact on people's lives. But what you heard a little bit of today is the kind of debate that goes on daily between AID and people over the State Department, who want to see the AID program much more directly supportive, in their minds, of the peace process. And they want those immediate and visible results that can be seen, can be reported on this the press.
In is the constant struggle of those who work in long-term development to argue that the support that we give for real people and the support we give to try and alleviate poverty and bring education and health care are things that do not happen overnight. But they are absolutely the foundation of a peace process that will endure a lot longer than the peace process has endured thus far in this region.
So I agree that we should be seeking meaningful results. That question is whether we have the patience, white we have the insight. And I think Sara Roy has helped bring this together in such a way that I want to take her comments back with me to make sure that others read them.
Q: Can you tell us more about what might be in the pipeline for this area after we sign the peace agreement?
MR. ATWOOD: There is nothing in the pipeline for any new country anywhere in the foreign-aid program. There is nothing for the countries in which we are working now.
I remember being attacked with Pat Buchanan’s face about a foot away from mine on Crossfire one night: Would you ever contemplate giving aid to Syria? I said yes, I would. If Syria and Israel sign a peace agreement, I think that we obviously will have an interest in investing in the peace process, as we have in other parts of the Middle East. We have to make judgements about what countries are doing at the moment, not what they will be doing after a peace agreement is signed.
I think you should expect that so long as the activities are going on, so long as Israel and Syria are in a state of war, we can expect that they will conduct themselves accordingly on both sides. My hope is that, when we reach an agreement with Syria, the kinds of activities that go on now will be suspended and we will be able to look in a more constructive way at the relationship.
Where will we find the resources? When I listened to what Sara was saying, I was wishing that we had some of the resources that are available, for example, to a neighborhood in Cairo to apply to the Gaza Strip. Many neighborhoods in Cairo (a city of 20 million people or so) have about the same population as Gaza. We have some wonderful programs in Cairo that are exactly on the themes presented by Dr. Roy. I think that we’ve contributed greatly to the peace process through our programs in Egypt.
But we have $75 million for both the West Bank and Gaza. We have encouraged other donors to pick up where we have had to leave off. The World Bank trust fund didn’t just happen. We have been in discussions with the World Bank and the Europeans about the needs of this area. As development agencies talk among themselves, I think there is an understanding of what needs to be done. And there is, I hope, more complementarity, although the general problem exists elsewhere as well – looking for immediate and visible results as opposed to long-term development.
Q: Suppose you were addressing not the Middle East Policy Council but the American Legion in Omaha or the Christian Coalition in Mississippi and the question came up, What does the termination of foreign aid altogether mean for me, the average American mechanic or Christian Coalition store owner?
MR. ATWOOD: Well, it makes a very big difference. Let me say that I haven’t been quite so excited about a presidential campaign as I was in 1972 when George McGovern was running. I think that Pat Buchanan's ideas are now going to undergo the kind of scrutiny that they deserve. And my hope is that when he makes the case that he makes for protectionism, for isolationism, that we will see some really enlightened debate about what this means for the ordinary working person around this country.
I saw the polling numbers move around dramatically when the president of the United States went out to the people and explained why we needed to ratify the NAFTA treaty. They moved dramatically because the American people intuitively understand the right answer. They understand that we cannot become an island. The fastest-growing markets are in the developing world. And we now have 28 percent of our economy tied into foreign trade, imports and exports. That is where the high wage jobs are. If we can simply increase that level of our GNP by 1 percent, we will wipe out our deficit over the next five years.
So I think you are going to see a very sophisticated case made that we need to invest in infrastructure in our own country to become more competitive so that we can then achieve a higher share of those markets and that we need to continue to develop them so that there will be a demand for American products.
The people who live in the Gaza Strip, who suffer in the way that Sara has put forth so effectively, cannot purchase American goods. They can hardly afford to purchase Israeli goods, which are right next door. But if we can continue to invest in development-in a burden sharing way with the rest of the donor community – we will see the markets in crease. Forty percent of the increases in exports have occurred in the developing world. That is where the action is. The developed world is the static markets of Japan and Europe. There is still a huge amount of trade that goes on there, but they are not growing. And if we don't see that growth, then obviously we are not going to be able to expand our own economy.
There are other reasons that are more negative, such as global warming and the fear of reemerging diseases, like tuberculosis and polio. They are a direct result of environmental deterioration, diseases that are caused when rain forests are destroyed and various types of microbes find their way into our own atmosphere and our own hemisphere. These things require us, it seems to me, to continue to be engaged in a development effort with the other industrial countries of the world and, increasingly, with countries that have emerging markets that see the need to in vest m development in their own regions.
The United States has provided leadership in this effort over the last 50 years. It has served our interests well, if you look back at the major impact that we have had in terms of the number of children that have been educated, the number of people that have been served through health-care programs, and the overall growth of the world economy as a result of those investments.
If we don't continue to make those investments, one wonders what the world will look like 30 years hence. I haven't even mentioned population control, which is under severe attack by this Congress. They have reduced our population budget by some 45 percent. We are allowed to spend 65 percent of what we did last year. But they have put such restrictions on the way we do it that family-planning services are going to be disrupted. We will not be able to distribute advice and modem contraceptives to people, as we have been in the past. That 1s going to mean a large number of unwanted pregnancies. That will, in tum, mean that a lot of women will die, as there will be a lot of abortions performed, whether we like it or not.
We have got to somehow argue our way out of the condition in which we now find ourselves. That is why I welcome Pat Buchanan, because his ideas are so Neanderthal, so wrong for this country, that I would hope that Bob Dole and ultimately Bill Clinton will take them on forthrightly and that, once again, our democracy will sort itself out and come up with the right answers.
Q: I would like to ask Dr. Gubser and Dr. Roy a question about family planning and urban de-concentration, because there is no way that you can practically know the issues of the Gaza Strip without addressing these two problems.
DR. GUBSER: I think what Brian Atwood was saying about population programs is right on. One of the primary means is through educating women and addressing their concerns. And that has to be done through their civil society, through NGOs.
With respect to de-urbanization, that is a process that has been going on worldwide for hundreds of years. London experienced the same sort of thing, if you go back a century or two. We have the same phenomenon, but in larger numbers, m Cairo today. What we can do is to try to build up the economies of rural sectors; that will slow that process. But we are not going to stop the process. Urbanization is going to continue because as economies restructure, the jobs are necessarily going to be in some urban setting. That is where the factories are going to be, and the central services.
My organization, ANERA, spends half of its resources in agriculture. It is always a declining proportion of the labor force, and it appears to be a declining portion of the whole economy as economies expand. There is still enough food. Egypt is itself today, according to Mr. Atwood, self-sufficient. That being said, agriculture is a smaller proportion of the total economy of Egypt. It's a good thing; it means people have greater incomes but through other ways of working-in factories and in central services.
DR. ROY: I'd like to just make one point about family planning in the West Bank and Gaza. This is something that for a long time has been a very sensitive issue. But in the last two to three years, there has been a growing movement among women's organizations in particular to deal with family planning 1n a very direct and real way because they recognize the problem, as the rest of us do. When one speaks to women on an individual, one to-one, basis as I have over the years, it is very clear that many women would like to have these services available to them, but there are all kinds of social and religious pressures on them to have large families. The women's movement has been very effective, on a small scale, in dealing with this, in educating women, and in providing them with services. However, because of the problems with funding NGOs, one is seeing a slow decline in the level of services and education around family planning.
Q: Dr. Roy, the United Nations Work and Relief Agency (UNRWA) has played a stellar role in not only Gaza and the West Bank, but in the Middle East for the last half century. What is happening to UNRWA as the peace process goes on?
DR. ROY: There is a lot of talk now about the Palestinian Authority taking over UNRWA's functions and UNRWA disappearing. I don't think that is going to happen for quite a long time. My discussions with PA officials suggest that they really don't want to do that now. They don t have the financial or the administrative capacity. And the political sensitivities of dealing with the refugee issue is something that the PA chooses to avoid at this time. I would like to see UNRWA continue its services because it not only is able to provide what it has provided for so many years, but it is one of the institutions through which donors, including our government, are funding projects. And UNRWA is one of few institutions, particularly in the Gaza Strip, that has the capacity to deliver certain kinds of services and implement certain kinds of projects. Clearly, over the long term, if there is a Palestinian state and a well-developed government, there would be no need for UNRWA.
DR, GUBSER: While I agree with Sara on most things, I'm not sure if I really agree on this. I agree that UNRWA has been absolutely valuable from its inception back in the very early '50s until now. Sometime in the near term we are going to have to tum those essential functions that UNRWA performs-education, health services, some social welfare services over to the Palestinian National Authority. These are things that governments do in the Middle East and around the world. But it is difficult to do. The Palestine National Authority doesn't want to have these responsibilities right now because of a lack of resources and for political reasons as well.
That being said, there may be a great benefit in trying to normalize the situation on the ground more. And by turning UNRWA functions over in a studied way, not just precipitously, earlier than later may help push along that process.
Q: My name is Elias Jabbour. I am an Israeli Palestinian Arab living in Israel. The peace treaty cannot be imposed on hungry people because it's not going to be of any help if human needs there are unmet. There is wisdom in the Jewish saying that justice is not to be made; it must be felt. Peace must be felt. There are many people who do not feel your peace. Dr. Roy, what are your suggestions for confronting this gloomy situation? My second question is to Dr. Gubser. What are the NGOs doing in Israel? Is there any way that we can get any aid?
DR. ROY: The overwhelming problem and all of us in different ways have identified it is unemployment m Gaza. Many of the problems that I have articulated in my talk are related to that. In the short to medium term, unemployment can only be alleviated if more and more Palestinians are allowed to return to their jobs in Israel. In order for that to happen, the closure has to be removed. Obviously, this is a political issue. And I would urge our own government, as well as other governments, to pressure the Israelis on this point. This problem has been articulated by the donors in various international meetings, including Amman and more recently Paris in January [and Washington in March]. But there isn't enough sustained political pressure.
Donors are operating on the assumption that the closure is a fact of life. Hence, their strategy is to minimize the damaging effects of the closure rather than end it. I firmly believe that unless the closure and myriad other restrictions are removed, there cannot be any sort of meaningful or sustainable development, economic growth or even widespread individual prosperity in the area. It just can't happen because the closure affects the movement of labor and goods. One needs a more rational, stable environment in Gaza and the West Bank. The policies of the Palestinian Authority, which I have not gotten into here, have also done a great deal to thwart rational economic practice and behavior in this part of the world.
DR.GUBSER: It's a pleasure seeing Mr. Jabbour in the audience today. He founded one of the earliest Arab NGOs in Israel, the House of Hope. It provided a forum, when it wasn't popular to do so, for Arabs and Israelis to sit down together, do things together. I am proud to say my organization has been a supporter in the past of the House of Hope.
As for support today for Israeli NGOs, I'll mention a couple of things that I know USAID does. But remember there are resources other than USAID donor funds, other organizations' donor funds. We continue to do some odd things here and there. I was very pleased recently to read that the Nazareth Hospital has received some funds for American schools and hospitals abroad. I was very pleased because I introduced them to the concept and introduced them to some of the people in USAID. They followed up on it, and they are now successful.
Another program that a number of Israeli NGOs get involved in-and there is no reason why Arab-Israeli NGOs can't be involved is in the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program. We have some funds voted for a program that is an Israeli NGO. And there certainly can be Arabs mixed in with that. There are similar sets of organizations in Israel that certainly can be involved.
Let me mention one thing that relates to what Sara was saying on Palestinian labor. I agree 100 percent that the labor market in Israel should be opened in a sustained way to Palestinians. There is another market that needs to be opened up in the Arab world. There are a number of Arab countries that import labor Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, Qatar, Oman and so forth. That market is largely closed to the Palestinians as a result of the PLO stance during the Gulf War in 1991.
I read that a couple of countries may have taken decisions to open up that market again. It's very important. If these jobs could be had once more by Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, we could see, over time, 10, 20, 30,000 people getting high-paid jobs and being able to support families back home. That is not economic development for the West Bank and Gaza, but it would provide a good cash flow while that economy develops.
DR. ROY: In terms of practical solutions, it is extremely important that one try to seek answers within the present constraints as well. I don't want to create the impression that nothing else can be done short of eliminating the closure. One should work on both fronts simultaneously. For example, I think it is very important to try to create as much sustainable employment locally as possible. And one way to do this is through the NGO community, through providing services to people. There are a number of NGOs and other organizations in the West Bank and Gaza that have managed to create sustainable employment, relatively speaking. They need to be supported. Their methodologies need to be studied and replicated. One of the programs AID is supporting that I think is particularly good is UNRWA's revolving loan program for small business in Gaza. It has been very successful with regard to income and employment generation.
1 Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), pp. ix-xi.
2 Mustapha K. al-Sayyid, “A Civil Society in Egypt?” Middle East Journal, vol. 47, no. 2, Spring 1993, p. 230.
3 John Keane, Democracy and Civil Society (London: Verso, 1988), p. 23.