Open letter to the Members of the Quartet and international donors

Published: 12 April 2006

Oxfam International works with Palestinians and Israelis to overcome poverty and suffering

Oxfam International has written an urgent open letter calling upon the international community to ensure that vital funding for essential services provided by Palestinian institutions continues. The letter also highlights how Israeli restrictions on movement of goods and food aid is increasing the suffering of the 1.3 million Palestinians living inside Gaza. During this critical period, all the parties must work together to negotiate peace, and refrain from violence.

Oxfam International, the international confederation of development organizations, is deeply concerned that the already serious humanitarian situation facing the Palestinians may become far more acute with some donors considering cutting funding to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, and with the impact of continuing Israeli restrictions on social services and economic activity.

Oxfam International believes that international aid should be provided through the Palestinian institutions and local authorities charged with delivering essential services, including health and education, regardless of which party is in power. The Palestinian Authority was created by the international community to meet the needs of Palestinian civilians and is a legitimate channel for humanitarian funds.

We believe that this is the worst possible time to cut funding. The recent elections in both the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel represent significant changes in the political context and therefore an opportunity to move the peace process forward, one that the international community should seize. To cut funding risks squandering the positive potential that may exist in the new governments and risks making an already fragile situation more dangerous. Whatever the politics of such a decision, it would be ordinary people who would suffer the consequences.

Donor aid to the Palestinian Authority accounted in 2005 for about one quarter of Palestinian gross disposable income and pays the salaries of 152,000 employees, providing vital support to almost one million people, or one in four of the Palestinian population. Stopping this aid would clearly have a major impact on ordinary people.

Palestinians are already on the edge of survival, with over 60 per cent of the population living on less than $2.10 per day. Their plight will now worsen if international donors withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority. Such a step would weaken the Palestinian Authority and deprive Palestinians of critically needed health and education services at a time when the Palestinian economy is suffering a serious reversal of development because of Israel's occupation and the ongoing conflict.

Suggestions that, in response to the Hamas election victory, international donors channel humanitarian assistance through international non-government organizations are not the answer. This would further undermine Palestinian institutions that are vital to both immediate assistance and any prospects for longer-term development. Moreover, few international NGOs have the capacity to channel such funds and essential services would suffer.

Other vital measures are also needed to ensure the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to provide essential services and also keep the Palestinian economy afloat. Palestinian tax revenues, which last year totaled approximately half of the Palestinian Authority revenue, have been withheld by Israel in violation of the internationally agreed Oslo Accords and the Paris Protocol. They should be transferred by Israel without delay.

Palestinian livelihoods are threatened because farmers are prevented from reaching their fields, water supplies or sources of inputs and from selling their produce in nearby markets, as a result of the Separation Wall and restrictions on movement under occupation. In addition, Israel's repeated and often lengthy closures of the Karni crossing into the Gaza Strip, amounting to two out of every three days so far this year, have had a devastating impact on Gaza's 1.3 million people. Essential food supplies including bread, sugar and yogurt have become extremely scarce.

The Karni closures have also been catastrophic for Palestinian agriculture, costing Palestinians up to $500,000 a day, according to UNOCHA estimates, and coinciding with the main growing season for cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers for the European market. It is vital that Israel allows Palestinians free access to markets, in line with obligations under the Paris Protocol.Civilians suffer the most from conflict and urgently need protection under International Law. The protection of civilians will only come through a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. Any framework for negotiations must include UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israeli withdrawal from lands occupied since 1967, and reaffirm the right of Israel and a future Palestinian state to exist within secure borders.

Israel, as the occupying power, has legal responsibility under the 4th Geneva Convention to ensure access to basic services for Palestinian civilians. The international community also has the legal responsibility to hold Israel accountable for any violations against the Palestinians under International Law.

While the Quartet discusses the status of the new elected Palestinian representatives, the current and growing pressure on Palestinian civilians demands urgent action by the international community to bring all actors to the conference table to seek a durable solution to the conflict in accordance with International Law. Oxfam has consistently called on all parties to pursue a negotiated peace settlement.

With the worsening humanitarian crisis facing Palestinians and the potential opportunity offered by new governments in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, we urge you not to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority and to redouble your diplomatic efforts to address the humanitarian situation so that civilians are protected.

Yours sincerely,

 Jeremy Hobbs signature

Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director
Oxfam International