Europe's Palestine: Aid and Terrorism

European officials have expressed a strong desire for being included in any postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

European officials have expressed a strong desire for being included in any postwar reconstruction of Iraq.  It therefore behooves us to examine the EU track record for reconstruction efforts in another part of the Arab world--the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Following last summer's revelations implicating the Palestinian Authority in suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians, critics objected that EU-financing of the PA amounted to a subsidy for terrorism.  But the European External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, responded serenely:  "We have found no evidence of EU funds being used for purposes other than those agreed between the EU and the PA," he said. "So, there is no case for stating that EU money has financed terrorism." Mr. Patten and his office have hewed to this line ever since.  In an interview last December with the French daily Le Monde, Jean Brétéché, the European Commission's "Representative for the West Bank and Gaza Strip", remarked in the same vein that: "For the moment, we do not have even the beginning of proof that European money is being used for other ends than those for which it was allocated."  Nonetheless, just recently, the Commission's Anti-Fraud Office, known by its French acronym OLAF, opened an investigation into the matter.  This comes, no doubt, by way of deflecting the demand of some 170 members of the European Parliament that a parliamentary Committee of Inquiry be created.   

But the OLAF investigators could spare themselves the trouble.  In addition to the hundreds of millions of euros in project-related aid that the EU has been providing the Palestinian Authority for several years now, it also pays 10 million euros per month directly into the PA budget.  Now, the disclaimers of European officialdom - massively reinforced by the pretense of opening an "anti-fraud" investigation - create the impression that the very shekels into which a euro contribution was converted would have to have gone to the purchase of the explosives used in an attack or to the payments of the operatives who planned it or of the family of the "martyr" who carried it out, before European responsibility could be established.  But from an economic perspective it is self-evident nonsense even just to expect to be able to obtain such "proof."  It lies, after all, in the very nature of money - what economists call its "fungibility" - that even if a financial contribution to a given budget is ostensibly "targeted" to some particular expenditure, it necessarily frees up resources for all others.  Given a range of expenditures, it is in fact meaningless to try to distinguish to just which of them a particular revenue went.  If, then, the PA has been underwriting terrorist attacks, the EU has been subsidizing them.  And, given the massiveness of the evidence that has surfaced, no one seriously denies today that the PA has been underwriting such attacks.    

EU attempts to distance itself from the PA in this connection ring especially hollow in light of the seemingly unconditional quality of its engagement on the PA's behalf in recent years.  Indeed, what is most striking about recent EU pronouncements on Middle East politics is the degree to which they tend to suggest a virtual identity between the Palestinian Authority and the EU itself.  This tendency is clearly reflected in M. Brétéché's December 11th remarks to Le Monde.  Thus, for example, he notes that his office had lately informed Yasir Arafat that "we needed four or five months to prepare transparent and irrefutable elections" and he speaks proudly of the reforms which - "in the last two years, despite the situation" - "we have accomplished..., notably the reform of the Ministry of Finance....  We are also working on the independence of the executive power and the judiciary."  For M. Brétéché, it is "we," the officialdom of the European Union, that is responsible for the reform of Palestinian institutions and not Palestinians themselves.  This pretension is hardly compatible with European claims to be championing Palestinian "self-determination."  It is, however, consistent with the marked preference that the EU has lately displayed for setting up de facto protectorates in "trouble zones" where it is diplomatically and otherwise engaged.  Kosovo and Bosnia are obvious examples.  

A post-war Iraq administered according to presently dominant European conceptions could meet a similar fate.  It is worth noting in this connection - given, namely, Franco-German insistence on the "necessity" of UN leadership in post-war Iraqi reconstruction - that the "High Representative's" administration in Bosnia was not created by the UN and does not stand under the latter's authority.  The UN's own "mission" in Bosnia was always a comparatively minor affair and has recently been terminated.  Yet, more than seven years after the signing of the Dayton Accords, Bosnia continues to be governed, in effect, by a "High Representative" who, for all intents and purposes, is appointed by the EU and who, in the person of Paddy Ashdown, now combines also the post of the EU's "Special Representative" for Bosnia.