Sanctioning the people

In general, economic sanctions have not proved particularly effective in achieving political goals around the world. The Palestinian case is not likely to prove an exception.

Ever since Hamas won elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, the international donor community has debated imposing sanctions on the Palestinian Authority–in the form of withholding funding–and has loudly proclaimed its position to the Palestinian people.

The US has already stopped its funding and even withdrawn previously given aid. Israel has stopped transferring the monthly monies it collects on behalf of the PA in the form of taxes on imports through Israeli ports to the Palestinian private sector.

The rest of the world, including major donors like the EU, individual European states, Japan and international organizations including the UN and the World Bank, have decided to continue funding ongoing projects, and postponed a decision of stopping funding completely until after the possible formation of a Hamas government.

Most Palestinians, including opponents of Hamas, will argue that economic sanctions against Palestinians–whether the PA or other institutions–will simply lead to further economic and social deterioration. This will also constitute collective punishment of the Palestinian people as a whole. Together, these factors will contribute to the process of radicalization in Palestinian society. The statistical correlation between increasing poverty and increasing political and ideological radicalization is well corroborated.

Further, economic punishment will also create public sympathy for Hamas and further reinforce its popularity. The Palestinian public simply cannot grasp the justification proffered for such sanctions, since Hamas won free, fair and legitimate elections that were organized by the Fateh-dominated PA and monitored by credible representatives of the international community.

Some members of the international community are trying to differentiate between ending funding to the PA on the one hand and maintaining humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people on the other. It might be useful here to point out that just over 90 percent of non-security related public expenditure in the Palestinian Authority’s budget goes to humanitarian projects, particularly health, education and social protection, i.e., homes for the elderly and orphans and efforts to combat extreme poverty.

Indeed, 75-80 percent of the non-security employees of the PA work within the health, education and social protection fields. The health and education sectors in Palestine happen to be almost completely governmental services. Ninety-nine percent of all educational services are governmental. More than 95 percent of the primary health care sector and more than 80 percent of secondary and tertiary healthcare is governmental.

In other words, imposing sanctions on the PA will lead to the collapse of the health and education services, which, aside from security expenditures, are what the PA primarily supports. Such a collapse might happen sooner than the donor community is calculating since these sectors are financially fragile and cannot absorb much financial pressure for long.

If the international community is interested in maintaining humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, these are calculations that must be factored in. If funding to the PA should be ended, there is a need for an alternative structure that does not presently exist to replace the PA in these regards. That will take time to create. We have already witnessed frightening examples in other parts of the world of what happens when government structures collapse with no alternatives in place. Decades of significant human suffering have ensued while such structures were rebuilt.

The Palestinian case has additional potential consequences. According to international law, responsibility for the Palestinian situation, particularly the humanitarian situation, lies with Israel as the foreign military occupying power. Having failed to help Palestinians achieve self-determination and statehood as per relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and having instead indirectly or directly supported the occupying power, the international community too has a certain level of responsibility for securing the humanitarian needs of Palestinians.