By Donald Macintyre
"Everyone in northern Gaza knows the bridge at the entrance to Beit Hanoun. When Mohammad Shtayyeh, the chairman of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, remarked recently that, since the beginning of the intifada in 2000, the bridge had been destroyed three times by Israeli forces and rebuilt each time by the European Union, no one in the Middle East aid world needed to ask what he was talking about.
Mr Shtayyeh's remark came after this month's Paris donors' conference pledged an estimated $7.4bn over the next three years to the emergency Palestinian government set up in the West Bank by President Mahmoud Abbas last June. And it went to the heart of a dilemma rarely discussed aloud by Western politicians, but which has been bothering aid professionals for several years, namely that western handouts may have the unintended effect of subsidizing the conflict, or as its harsher critics contend, the Israeli occupation of the territories it seized in 1967 which they see as prolonging that same conflict.
The dilemma was once summed up by the able UN official David Shearer. Acknowledging that "maintaining stability while the search for a peace agreement continues" was a "laudable aim", he also suggested that with "ever present" funding to prevent humanitarian meltdown, there was "less incentive to address the issues that underlie it. Without donor assistance, for example, Israel's occupation ... would be much more problematic and expensive ... so aid money might also blunt the urgency to seek peace."......
In doing more to persuade Israel that time is running out for the two-state solution, the Europeans would be doing little more than reinforcing Mr Olmert himself; he has warned his opponents that the alternative is a single state in which Palestinians would agitate for equal rights – spelling the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. And if the Europeans are not ready to use what leverage they can in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, they might consider those of their own taxpayers."