Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian territories [EPA]

On the face of it, the one-day international donor meeting in Paris was a fantastic success.

Billions of dollars were promised in aid to the Palestinian Authority to salvage its ailing economy, and all the while political rhetoric flew about in support of Palestinian statehood.
 
But financial pledges, even if and when they are delivered to the Palestinians, are meaningless in the long term without the exertion of international political pressure to end the 40-year old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
 
"This is not a donors' conference. This a state-building conference," declared Tony Blair, the Middle East peace quartet's envoy, in his speech at the meeting.
 
In his opening speech, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, called for an end of the occupation and for an independent Palestinian state to be established within a year in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
 
Such statements, while politically significant, sound vacuous unless the international community reaches a consensus to pressure Israel not only to stop, but also to reverse its settlement building that has rendered statehood a shattered Palestinian dream.

No 'show of will'
 

In Paris there was neither a show of an international political will to address the occupation itself nor any serious pressure placed on Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods
This is not to underestimate the urgency of the flow of immediate aid - every single dollar is direly needed to avert an impending catastrophe that the United Nations and other humanitarian organisations have already cautioned against.
 
Yet in the absence of a clearly defined political plan, financial aid will amount to no more than a sticking plaster that cannot stop a profusely bleeding wound.
 
In Paris there was neither a show of an international political will to address the occupation itself nor any serious pressure placed on Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
 
Warnings by the World Bank that an Israeli reversal of movement restriction policies and closure of borders is a pre-requisite for the recovery of the Palestinian economy, went unheeded.
 
The donors' conference, as the American-sponsored Annapolis meeting a few weeks ago, was instead driven by Israeli and US security priorities, namely backing, if not, encouraging a Palestinian Authority confrontation against Hamas rather than addressing the reality of the Israeli occupation.

Fuelling divisions
 

Hamas's June takeover of Gaza pushed the
two Palestinian sides further apart [AFP]
The international community, following the lead of Washington, has been instrumental in fuelling Palestinian divisions, particularly since the international boycott of the Hamas-led government formed after the 2006 Islamic movement's victory in parliamentary elections.
 
But while the shift in the international agenda against Hamas has served US and Israeli framing of the problem of that "of Palestinian terrorism", both Fatah and Hamas share the main responsibility of facilitating an international consensus that has diverted attention from the Israeli occupation.
 
The PA's initial acquiescence in the international boycott of the Hamas-led government and security co-ordination with the US to strengthen its security against Hamas - even if that did not amount to practical steps - created an internal atmosphere of mistrust.
 
Meanwhile, Hamas's military takeover of Gaza last June provided an unprecedented opportunity for Israel to strangle an already suffocated 1.6 million Palestinians in the tiny strip and turned a geographic divide into a de facto political division of a frail Palestinian polity.
 
As a result, we saw a conference supposedly aimed at reviving peace negotiations in Maryland turn into an all-out "war on terrorism" pitting Palestinian against Palestinian and consequently pushing the fight against Israeli occupation on to the backburner.
 
The trend continued in Paris, even as Abbas tried in his speech to draw attention back to the reality on the ground.

"I expect them [the Israelis] to stop all settlement activities, without exceptions," he said.

He also called on Israel to remove dozens of unauthorised settlement outposts established since 2001, to remove military checkpoints and to stop building its separation wall in the West Bank.

Political tool?
 

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There are currently 120 Israeli settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, that amount to about 40 per cent of Palestinian land occupied by Israel in 1967.
 
But Abbas's demand is likely to fall on deaf ears. For while an international show of support - and infusion of millions of dollars - may strengthen his position against Hamas, it does not bolster the Palestinian position vis-a-vis Israel.
 
If anything, the conference has enabled Israel to stand its ground on its security conditions.

It has also practically absolved Israel from making commitments to stop settlement expansion and incursions and attacks against the Palestinian territories, and to ease the restrictions on movement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
 
Indeed, the flow of aid - with the exception of UN-directed emergency relief funds - would be used as a political tool by some donors to pressure the PA to initiate a full-scale crackdown on Hamas, and even other opponents.

Divisive steps
 
US congress, in particular, is expected to make stricter stipulations for releasing all, or even part, of the $550m pledged by the US government to ensure that Abbas meets Israeli demands on dismantling armed wings of Hamas and Fatah.
 

Sarkozy has suggested deploying an
international peacekeeping force [AFP]
In other words, for the PA to even receive part of the promised aid, it has to take more divisive and harsh security steps that could prove very costly in the increasingly impoverished Palestinian territories.
 
In a revealing statement, Sarkozy suggested the beefing-up of the Palestinian security machinery against Hamas through the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.

This proposal reflected the Paris meeting's skewed priorities and could become a recipe for Palestinian civil war.
 
Thus, while the Paris meeting may have recognised the urgency of the deteriorating humanitarian situation, the political subtext of the donors' financial pledges will only feed the internal strife and enable Israel to manage, not end, the occupation.

Source: Al Jazeera