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U.S. more generous to Palestinians than to some Americans

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–In several of these columns I have described the United States as a laggard among wealthy democracies in its support of social services. Anti-tax individualism shows itself in one of the lowest indicators among this group of countries for government outlays as a percentage of national resources. President Obama’s disappointment in health reform is only the most recent demonstration of a culture unfriendly to government programs. It is most apparent among Republicans, but it is far from absent among Democrats.

Now I am pleased to identify a significant departure from public sector stinginess. The American representative to the Palestine National Authority–Daniel Rubinstein–traveled to Bethlehem and announced another U.S. contribution, this time of $40 million, to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). According to the Palestine News Agency, “The United States is UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor. In 2009, the United States provided over $267 million to UNRWA, including $116.2 million to its General Fund, $119.5 million to its West Bank/Gaza emergency programs, $30 million to emergency programs in Lebanon, and $2.2 million to assist other Palestinians in the region.” Other Palestinians in the region are mostly those in Syria and Jordan. http://english.wafa.ps/?action=detail&id=13712

Yet another positive note in the story is the openness of the State Department to people with a name like Daniel Rubinstein. The 1940s was a long time ago.

Close to last in aid to its own citizens but first in aid to Palestinians is a mark of some distinction, but not clearly a positive mark. If any people demonstrate the folly of excessive public support it is Palestinians who have lived off their claim of being refugees through four generations and 60 years.

One can argue without end about the facts and the morality as the British Mandate for Palestine became Israel. Who did what, and who rejected what compromises are questions in the dustbin of history, along with who is responsible for African slavery, and which group may claim ownership over each part of North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and other places where migrations and bloody conquests began long before recorded history, and continued through much of the history that has been recorded. One can ponder the responsibility of Arab countries and the United Nations, along with Palestinians themselves and Israel for the maintenance of the refugee phenomenon. While individual Palestinians have left the camps and done well, UNRWA remains a vital part of Palestinian lives and international politics. Dependence is the name of the game, for the organization, the refugees, the politicians of Palestine and those of other countries who accuse only Israel of responsibility.

There is no better demonstration of the American mantra that aid breeds weakness, and cuts off individual initiative before it can develop.

The paralysis of initiative appears in politicians’ efforts to deal with the dispute, as well as the help me lethargy in the neighborhoods still called refugee camps. Palestinian leaders have learned only the language of demand and expectation. It is for Israel to make concessions, and for other countries to pressure Israel. The Palestinian narrative–supported by numerous others–is that Israel has a monopoly of blame and Palestine a monopoly of justice. Nothing offered to the Palestinians has ever been enough, and we are hard pressed to cite a concession Palestinian officials have offered to Israelis in their numerous meetings.

On the same day that I read about the latest American government donation to UNRWA I received an article from a professional journal reflecting the toughness of some Americans toward their own people. The subject is the cost of emergency service for
“Individuals who Necessitate Their Own Rescue.” That is, people who through carelessness or ignorance get themselves into situations where it is dangerous and expensive to extract them. The article ponders the legal, moral, and administrative issues involved. It notes that there are states and localities that may charge for rescue, but “Charge-for-rescue policies are a bad idea.” http://www.bepress.com/jhsem/vol7/iss1/2/?sending=10901

Israelis are familiar with the problem. Most common are overseas tourists and ultra-Orthodox youths who wander unprepared into the desert, go off the marked trails, fall into ravines, or suffer from dehydration. On our hikes we have encountered well dressed women trying to clamber down rocky slopes in high heels, and young men dressed for the study hall, without water bottles and obviously uncomfortable in the sun. During each season of flash floods there are people who try to drive through torrents that cover desert roads and must be rescued. Sending a military helicopter to such cases, or picking a lost hiker from a ravine costs the IDF thousands of dollars per hour. Politicians have raised the question of demanding payment from the careless, but none has dealt with the administrative problems or the opposition.

I recall stories from the United States of fire brigades that depend on subscriptions, refusing to fight a fire destroying the home of an owner who has not paid the dues. Should a helicopter crew refuse to pluck a survivor who cannot pay on the spot, has no receipt from rescue insurance, or left the credit card at home? Perhaps Americans can be more creative and persistent than Israelis in solving the problem.

If the person in distress could claim Palestinian status, the payment might come out of the next United States allocation to UNRWA. And will non-Palestinian welfare families be far behind?

Sharkanksy is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

  1. carol ann goldstein
    February 8, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I am glad the US State department continues to support UNRWA’s regular budget and emergency programs in the West Bank and Gaza. However the amounts are quite small compared to what the US give directly to Israel – a few billion dollars a year.

    “U.S. more generous to Palestinians than to some Americans” should be retitled “U.S. more generous to Israelis than to some Americans”.

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