Myth Of Palestinian Development
By Sam Bahour
12 August, 2004
issue of Palestinian development has been in the limelight for sometime
now. For over a decade, billions of taxpayer dollars from countries
around the globe have been flooding into one of the smallest yet-to-be
countries, the Palestinian Authority (PA). In year 2004, the Palestinian
people have become the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in
the world. Yet, Palestine is not only unable to move forward in its
development process toward statehood, but rather, any achievements that
have been made thus far are being unraveled while donor funds continue
to flow unabated. As Dr. Khalil Nakhleh illustrates in The Myth of Palestinian
Development, this process of "de-developing" Palestine is
not haphazard or a strike of bad fate, but rather an externally planned
systematic approach to the Palestinian reality that Palestinians must
The Myth of Palestinian
Development, as stated by the author, "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." Dr. Nakhleh
rightly believes that, "no such thing ['magical' recipe] 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."
From the book's
subtitle, which is "Political Aid and Sustainable Deceit,"
and throughout, the reader is forced to think deeper than the superficial
headlines of today's media coverage of Palestine. Dr. Nakhleh puts the
context of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence into
today's world of "globalization and trans- nationalization,"
something few Palestinian analysts address. He states, "If the
function of the nation-state is being redefined in the context of globalization,
then the entire concept of national sovereignty and national interests
needs rethinking." Taking such a step back from the day to day
atrocities in Palestine is crucial if Palestinians are to be able to
position themselves in a way to actually realize the fruits of their
today's world dynamics with current Palestinian development toward statehood,
Dr. Nakhleh states that "Stability in the region, the creation
of conducive conditions for globalized production, and the mobility
of transnational capital are the primary objectives and concern of the
interventions, not genuine Palestinian development." After a critical
reading of the book and internalizing it with my own personal experience
in the Palestinian struggle during the period being covered, 1984 -
2001, I can attest that Dr. Nakhleh spectacularly reveals the inner
workings of an entire donor industry that has been built around the
catastrophic predicament of the Palestinian people -- an industry that
is sustained by the so-called 'peace process' and previously by the
The Myth of Palestinian
Development is a focused biography that takes a deep and serious look
into how two funding agencies, in particular, and the entire donor community
in general, including pre- Oslo Palestinian and Arab donors, view and
act toward Palestinian development. The book takes a unique approach
by surveying the Palestinian development process (the 'de-development'
process as Dr. Nakhleh would call it) through his own work experience
with the two most significant developmental agencies of the pre and
post- Oslo periods, The Welfare Association (1984-1992) and the European
The Welfare Association,
a Swiss-registered non-profit organization, established in 1983, was
the first serious attempt by a few wealthy Palestinians to positively
affect Palestinian development. Dr. Nakhleh takes the reader through
the maze of the fund's alliances -- largely governmental linked -- and
provides samples of various interventions and how those interventions
jerked from developmental-based to emergency-based during the first
Nakhleh believes, and I tend to agree, that the Palestinian capitalists'
"tendency to push towards becoming more 'mainstream responsive'
and much less 'developmental' left the real work of developing Palestine
based on future needs in total disarray. The author gives a sample of
development under Israeli occupation during the 1980s and describes
the complexities of financially supporting Palestinians during the first
intifada while the Israeli military was fully tracking where interventions
were being made and by whom. Currently living in the occupied territories
myself, I feel that remembering the lessons of the 1980s now is well-timed
since Palestine seems to be heading into another era of clandestine
development prior to statehood.
Reviewing how the
first Gulf War shook the region and in particular the Palestinian mode
of operation, Dr. Nakhleh boldly addresses the Welfare Association's
board -some of the most wealthiest Palestinians in the world - as utilizing
their 'privileged communications channels' to move the development process
from an institutional and need-based intervention to a personalized
practical approach that favored appeasing the powers-to-be which made
the Association loose its core potential to affect its declared goals
of true national development.
During the post-Oslo
period, a flurry of donor pledges, commitments, and disbursements (three
very different items, as one will learn from this book) were made by
the world community who took upon themselves to intervene on behalf
of Palestinian development. Again, through the author's personal, hands-on
experience with the largest donor to Palestine, the European Union (EU),
he meticulously depicts how this global strategy of intervention failed
to develop Palestine, and even worse, how it is "de- developing'
As stated by the
EU, the "political input and economic contribution has been the
determining element for the survival of the Palestinian Authority,"
Dr. Nakhleh asks, "Is it, for example, the type of 'survival' that
the EC [European Commission] aid offers that hooks entire PA institutions
to a 'life sustaining machine,' which manages to inject intravenously
small, yet steady doses of cash to keep the entire public sector afloat?"
Dr. Nakhleh provides
noteworthy insight into the people by which the international donor
community provides its intervention into Palestinian development; he
calls them the "New Mercenaries." "The New Mercenaries
are a rapidly emerging category of global professional hustlers, who
compete via the international media to sell their 'expertise' and 'experience'
to the highest bidder...They roam about unhindered by national boundaries
or limitations...The New Mercenaries are the 'nomads' of globalized
economies and societies, and the ubiquitous hallmark of development
projects. They are transient; only a few of them experience the repetition
of seasons in the same place. Thus, they rarely see the results of their
work." Anyone visiting Palestine these days will find these international
consultants -- "New Mercenaries" - in every aspect of Palestinian
life -- politics, security, economy, education, etc. - all holding VIP
cards and freely passing through Israeli military checkpoints with 4x4
sport utility vehicles in one of the most deprived and unfree places
in the world. It is unfortunate that the Palestinians alone are being
held responsible for their statehood building misgivings, when in reality,
donor money and donor-picked consultants are really in the 'developmental'
One of Dr. Nakhleh's
unique techniques in the book is that he does not only characterize
the problem but offers ideas for how to move ahead. He notes, "I
want to examine whether the genuine development for which we - at least
I am - aspiring, is at all feasible in a non-sovereign context."
This issue of sovereignty is absolutely in the forefront of today's
debate. As stated in the book, "'Autonomy' began to be perceived
by the newly constituted PA as tantamount to 'sovereignty.'" As
the author accurately notes, "The degree of whatever sovereignty
it [the PA] processed was determined, de facto, by Israel, and not by
the Accords it had signed." The fear is that Sharon's Unilateral
Disengagement Plan is starting to be viewed by the Palestinian leadership
as a step toward sovereignty, when in fact, it is nothing of the sort.
through the stretch of the last hundred years, were the Palestinians
in a real and effective position to decide on the context of intervention
in Palestine." "The two times when they had the potential
of insisting on the inclusion of positive societal developmental ingredients,
during the second half of the 1980's and the mid-1990s, they failed
to do so at all levels: that of the 'leadership,' the community-based
organizations, and the 'nationalist capital.'" Hence, the challenge
ahead is huge indeed and Dr. Nakhleh does not shy away from starting
to address it.
The book is structurally
organized in a very logical and methodological way. The two periods
under review are analyzed by there origins, strategy of intervention,
record of intervention, decisions structure, and the writer's assessment.
The actual records of interventions are supported with excerpts from
the author's field notes and reports at the time, an invaluable window
One full chapter
is dedicated to a side-by-side table of the comparisons of the interventions
for the pre and post-Oslo periods analyzed using twelve basic developmental
variables along with the author's candid diagnosis of the 17 years covered
in his analysis.
The final chapter
is critical. Dr. Nakhleh puts the bulk of his critical assessment here
and proposes what needs to be done. Approaching the topic as a researcher,
a practitioner and a Palestinian citizen under occupation, one comes
away with a mind- boggling array of issues as food for thought, or as
Dr. Nakhleh would agree, food for action.
Specific steps are
noted to "'indigenize' the objectives" of Palestinian development.
Some are rather specific steps, such as the elimination of the Economic
Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), the agency that
the donor countries created prior to Palestinian ministries and bureaucracy
being set up. Dr. Nakhleh terms this agency as, "the vestige of
the World Bank and the externally imposed agendas."
Dr. Nakhleh calls
for "societal participation" in the developmental planning
process of Palestine. A difficult task for sure, but one Dr. Nakhleh
terms an absolute must given what he proposes "cannot be attained
by simply embellishing the existing structure." He affirms that
"the requirements must be internal, structural and systematic;
they must be transformational, and relate directly to the Palestinian
system of governance."
In summary, Dr.
Nakhleh coins what needs to be done as "indigenous empowerment"
and the target of empowerment squarely being "the ordinary Palestinian
Having read The
Myth of Palestinian Development immediately after reading Prof. Francis
A. Boyle's new book Palestine, Palestinians and International Law (Clarity,
2003), which reveals another set of continuous strategic faults of the
Palestinian leadership through the eyes of a practitioner, like Dr.
Nakhleh, who was dealing in the realm of international law, working
with the 'trees' while still being able to see the 'forest'. Both books
are absolutely crucial to the broader understanding of why the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict is where it is today. The incompetency and disregard toward
Palestinian planning, particularly in the legal and developmental aspects,
bring one to the bold conclusion that serious internal restructuring
is required within the Palestinian liberation movement before any real
progress will be realized in ending the illegal Israeli occupation and
establishing the State of Palestine.
* Sam Bahour, a
Palestinian-American, lives in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh
and is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians
(1994) and can be reached at email@example.com.
* The Myth of Palestinian
Development. Khalil Nakhleh. Palestine: www.PASSIA.org.
April 2004. 223 pp. (English). Arabic version published by www.MUWATIN.org