The Myth of Palestinian Development Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit

The Myth of Palestinian Development - Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit is an experiential analysis about the devel¬opment of Palestine. It analyses the concepts of ‘development,’ ‘eco¬nomic aid,’ ‘political aid,’ and ‘em-powerment,’ as they pertain to the Palestinian situa¬tion for the last 17 years and examines - based on the personal experience of the author (at the Wel¬fare Associ¬ation and the European Commission) develop¬mental inter¬ventions during the pre- and post-Oslo Accords eras, tackling issues such as the ambiguity of deci¬sions and rationales for specific interven¬tions, the contradiction be¬twe en declared objectives and actual results, the poor streamlin¬ing in decision-making, the illogical and wasteful allocations of funds, the questionable capacity of potential partners to imple¬ment projects, the shal¬low and sloppy shorthand analysis of the situation on the ground, the frequent utiliza¬tion of subjective criteria and personal preferences in determining the eligibility of an idea or a partner for potential funding, and, on the whole, the questionable technical capacity of ‘aid-technocrats.’ The study concludes with specific pol¬icy implica¬tions for Palestinian decision-makers, institutions and ordi¬nary people, based on a reflection of what happened, or did not happen, and how to break the cycle of un-development and move for¬ward.

April 1, 2004


By Dr. Khalil Nakhleh
In his book History as Mystery , Michael Parenti writes: “Much written history is an ideologically safe commodity. It may be called ‘main­stream history,' ‘orthodox history,' ‘conventional history,' and even ‘ruling-class history' because it presents the dominant perspective of the affluent and influential people who reside over the major institu­tions of society.” It represents the voices of the winners. “The voices of the losers…are transmitted through a carefully tuned network of filters.” Parenti endeavors to “deconstruct some of the filters to show that much of the mainstream history … is seriously distorted in ways that serve or certainly reflect dominant socioeconomic interests.” In his book, he promises that the reader will find the “unpopular, marginalized view that violates the acceptable mainstream orthodoxy.” He asserts further that his book “is written in accordance with scholarly standards but without reference to the tedious evasions and preten­sions of mainstream academia…” [1]

My book is not about history per se ; it is about ‘Palestinian develop­ment,' and the societal transformation that was hoped for as a result of that development. In a certain indirect way, this book is about the history of other national ‘developmental' experiences from which we did not learn; but, to an even greater extent, it is about the present and future of structural change in Palestinian society and polity, under the relentless pressure of a renewed military occupation.

This is not an academic theoretical exercise. It is, as one mature pro­fessor of social and political thought described one of his books after years of reflection, “an effort to integrate ideas and experiences into a comprehensive way of thinking about social change.” [2] I aim to present here a deep experiential analysis of how to effect desirable change, towards arriving at some degree of generalization, while focusing on the ongoing Palestinian experience. In the process, I shall seek to de­mythologize ‘pet' clichés and concepts currently dominant in the Palestinian society and economy. I shall probe beyond these clichés . I am an anthropologist by academic training. For the last 17 years, how­ever, I have been doing what I call ‘applied anthropology' in the process of effecting, what I believed to be, genuine and comprehensive development in Palestine . How could I have thought otherwise? I was never trained to think of ‘hopped up,' segmented, piecemeal sectoral development. I was never convinced that such an approach can be cumulative, nor is there any evidence now to show that it is.

My analysis will move constantly between two levels of reality: the level of official and formal declarations, reporting, conclusions and assessments (the ‘mainstream history,' the ‘surface structure,' etc.), and the experiential, the local level, and actual results of official declarations and strategies. My bias will always move my analysis to the second level (‘real history,' the ‘hidden structure,' etc). Throughout, however, my generalizations will be coy, my assessments experiential, and my recommendations for future courses of action subjective, emanating from personal involvement.

Influenced by ‘critical theory,' my aim is to understand structural change. Critical theory “stands back from the order of things to ask how that order came into being, how it may be changing, and how that change may be influenced or channeled.” [3]This is what I am hop­ing to do in this study. However, this is not an attempt to find a ‘magi­cal' recipe for how things should be done in order to ensure the ‘desired' development of Palestinian society. In my view, no such thing is possible. Anyone who claims the contrary is, in the best situation, unaware and unappreciative of the complexities of the ‘development' process, and, in the worst, part of a premeditated process of deceit generated by a chorus of development ‘agents provocateurs' to maximize self-benefits.

I have been preoccupied with this ' enterprise' of Palestinian develop­ment, on a fulltime basis, since 1984, when I was recruited to become the Director of Programs of the newly registered and established Welfare Association (WA), in Geneva , Switzerland . For the last 17 years, both in my capacity with the WA (nine years), and as a consultant with the European Commission (eight years), I have reflected on the development of the Palestinian society and economy, as a 'participant observer,' from a position where I could influence directly micro-devel­opmental strategy, on the one hand, to a position where I was asked for my advice and opinions concerning certain intervention policies on the other. I shall use my rich personal experience to compare developmental interventions during the period preceding the Oslo Accords of 1993 (i.e., the beginning of the peace process) with the current pe­riod, until mid-2002.

As the Director of Programs at the WA, I was involved, in conjunction with the Director General, in defining and refining strategy and priorities, in generating financing proposals in field discussions with potential partners, in analyzing the feasibility of project ideas and implementation, in preparing the necessary financing documents and de­fending the proposals in front of the Executive Committee (and later the Projects Committee) of the Association, and in preparing, later on, summary reports about the ‘fitting' of the financed projects within the overall strategy of the Association. In order to meet my responsibilities effectively and efficiently, I was in direct physical contact with the field, conducting an average of three-four field visits of approximately three weeks duration per year. During the first five years, from May 1984 through November 1988, I actually held in the field an average of 175 meetings per year, during which I discussed ideas for developmental interventions with a host of people, reviewed the implementa­tion of projects, and performed general backstopping and ‘fire-extinguishing' functions, as necessary.

On the other hand, as a Consultant with the European Commission Representative Office (ECRO), I was responsible for the Commission's activities in the education sector, as a whole, including monitoring, follow-up, assessment of submitted reports, streamlining implementation, and liaising between the ECRO and local implementing agencies in the educational, vocational and technical training, and general institutional sectors. In this capacity, I interacted particularly with the Palestinian ministries of Higher Education, Education, [4] Labor, and Finance. Additionally, I was responsible, on behalf of the Commission and at the request of the Ministry of Higher Education, for coordinating the production of a ‘Rationalization Plan' for the higher education sector.

As I reviewed my very comprehensive field notes (I kept a record of every meeting I held in the field), I discovered many personal reflec­tions and analyses, encompassing the wide scope of ‘developmental' interventions: origins and capacities of Palestinian organizations (governmental and non-governmental alike), the ambiguity of certain decisions and rationales for specific interventions, the contradiction be­tween declared objectives and actual results, the very poor streamlining in decision-making between Headquarters and the field office, the illogical and wasteful allocations of funds, the questionable capacity of potential partners to implement projects, the very shallow and sloppy shorthand analysis of the situation on the ground, the frequent utilization of subjective criteria and personal preferences in determining the eligibility of an idea or a partner for potential funding, and, on the whole, the very questionable technical capacity of ‘aid-technocrats.' I found this characterization to be true in my field notes, scanning both periods of study - pre- and post-Oslo Accords - and irrespective of the source of ‘development' funds, being Palestinian, Arab or foreign. This situation led me to pose more serious questions than those currently being addressed in the public official discourse about the entire process of ‘development.' The present work will try to weave through some of these questions in the hope of clarifying them.

The structure of this study will include five chapters. As a theoretical introduction, Chapter I will focus on preliminary analytical excursions in the concepts of ‘development,' ‘economic aid,' ‘political aid,' and ‘empowerment,' as they pertain to the Palestinian situation for the last 17 years. Chapter II addresses developmental interventions in Palestine during the pre-Oslo Accords era, focusing primarily on the role of the WA during the period 1984-1992. Chapter III, on the other hand, addresses developmental interventions during the post-Oslo Accords era, focusing primarily on the role of the European Union (EU) during the period 1993-2001 and the impact of direct military reoccupation on people's lives during the first half of 2002. Chapter IV will present a comparison of the two periods of intervention, in terms of selected variables, in order to identify the critical components of the develop­ mental process. The study will conclude, in Chapter V, with specific pol­icy implications for Palestinian decision makers, institutions and the ordi­nary people, based on a reflection of what happened, or did not happen, and how to break the cycle of un-development and move for­ward.

A final note: although the subject matter of this study is ‘Palestinian development,' the specific focus is the Palestinian Territories , which were militarily occupied by Israel in June 1967 and completely reoccu­pied by June 2002. For ease of reference only, I use the word ‘ Palestine ' throughout this study. For me, however, the concept of ‘ Palestine ' is not equated with ‘ Palestinian Territories ,' although it encompasses them; it is the historical and geographical entity that has been trans­formed to become intermingled with Israel , and Israel with it.

[1] Parenti, Michael. History as Mystery. San Francisco : City Lights Books, 1999, pp. xi-xviii.

[2] Cox, Robert W. with Timothy J. Sinclair. Approaches to World Order. Cam­bridge : Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 26.

[3] Ibid., p. 525.

[4] Since that time, the two ministries of Higher Education and Education have been merged.


Abbreviations and Acronyms






Chapter I

On Development, Economic Aid, Political Aid,
Sovereignty and Empowerment: Preliminary Analytical Excursions


Chapter II

Developmental Interventions: Pre-Oslo Accords of 1993
1. General: External Initiatives
2. General: Internal Initiatives
3. Welfare Association (Mu’assasat At-Ta’awun)
3.1 Origins
3.2 Strategy of Intervention
3.2.1 Strategy of Intervention: Official
3.2.2 Strategy of Intervention: Actual
3.3 Record of Intervention
3.3.1 Record of Intervention: Official
3.3.2 Record of Intervention: Actual
3.4 Decision Structure, Implementation Modalities, Monitoring
3.5 Overall Assessment


Chapter III

Developmental Interventions: Post-Oslo Accords of 1993
1. General
2. European Union
2.1 Origins
2.2 Strategy of Intervention
2.3 Record of Intervention: Official
2.4 Record of Intervention: Actual
2.5 Decision Structure, Implementation Modalities, Monitoring
2.6 Overall Assessment
2.6.1 Strategy
2.6.2 Planning
2.6.3 Headquarters and Field Office
2.6.4 Technical Assistance


Chapter IV

Comparison of Interventions: Pre- and Post-Oslo
1. General
2. Period I
3. Period II
4. The Two Periods Compared
5. Epilogue - Reoccupation Phase: The Un-development of Palestine


Chapter V

Why Political Aid Failed to Develop Palestine, and How to Break the Cycle of Un-development? Policy Implications Under Fire
1. What Happened?
1.1 The Context
1.2 The Objectives
1.3 The Approach
1.4 The Societal Impact
2. What Must Happen to Break the Cycle of Un-development?
2.1 Redefining the Context
2.2 Reshaping and ‘Indigenizing’ the Objectives
2.3 Transforming the Approach Towards Societal Participation
2.4 Insisting on Sustained and Permeating Societal Impact