The Palestinian Authority is about to lead the World Group of Developing Nations
By Eitan Fischberger
The G-77 was established on June 14, 1964, by 77 developing countries at the end of the first session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva. It was intended to serve as a countervailing coalition against the dominance displayed by the more developed countries at the United Nations. These 77 countries sought to enhance their negotiating capacity by articulating and promoting similar collective economic and developmental interests. Since its founding, numerous other countries have joined the group, which is now comprised of 134 member states. The group’s name remains as it was at the time of its inception due to its historical significance. Today, the G-77 is the largest bloc of developing states at the United Nations, encompassing approximately 80 percent of the world’s population. As such, the group possesses significant influence within the international organization and on the world stage as a whole.
Every year, a member state is chosen to serve as chairman of the group. The chairman is the highest political position attainable within the group, acting as its coordinator and spokesman. The position rotates on a regional basis so that no one region can overpower another.
In October 2018, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to confirm the Observer State of Palestine as Chairman of the G-77 at the United Nations for the year 2019. The selection of Palestine to lead the group has irked the United States and Israel, who worry that the Palestinians will use their newfound platform to unilaterally forward their bid for statehood, without implementing any form of final status agreement with Israel. These fears were substantiated when, following the Palestinian confirmation, it was announced that enhanced rights and privileges would be given to them in the UNGA. Indeed, the Palestinians have a history of pursuing recognition as a full member state by multiple international bodies, notably the United Nations itself in 2012, which granted Palestine its “non-member” status. Recently, in late November 2018, the Palestinians unilaterally joined the United Nations’ Universal Postal Union and ten international protocols and conventions.
However, while political context is important, it is not the central matter discussed in this article. Instead, this article will contend that Palestine is unfit to chair the G-77, not because of potential geopolitical consequences, but rather because it does not abide by some of the fundamental principles espoused by the very group it has been appointed to lead. This is obvious when comparing the Palestinian Authority’s actions, laws, and policies with the G-77’s essential principles, which were explicitly outlined in their 2014 declaration “For a New World Order for Living Well” and was adopted at the Summit of Heads of State and Government, an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the group.Methodology
The G-77 declaration is comprised of 242 articles, structured into five parts, as follows:
Furthermore, parts two and four are divided into a variety of sub-sections, each discussing a specific issue. For this analysis, all 242 articles of the declaration were carefully examined to discern which ones the Palestinians violate. After identifying articles that the Palestinian Authority potentially violates, academic sources, opinion polls, UN documents, and news articles were then studied to verify whether these violations were occurring or not. Opinion pieces and commentary were excluded from this process for the sake of objectivity. Although the declaration consists of 242 articles, the majority of them are not listed individually. This is because many of the articles are repetitive or irrelevant to the discussion at hand. For example, article 105’s welcoming of a high-level plenary meeting of the 69th session of the General Assembly has no place in the discussion. Articles resembling 105 are abundant in the declaration and an individual analysis of each one would bear no significance to the matter at hand. This list is non-exhaustive, and it is entirely possible that there are other articles that the Palestinians violate. Additionally, it is entirely possible, and even, plausible that many of the violations committed by the Palestinians are not done intentionally. Yet, that does not render them unaccountable.
Analysis and Main Arguments
The first article which should be examined is article 13, which “emphasizes that the rationale for the establishment of our Group 50 years ago remains actual and valid, and indeed more valid, than at that time.” This article is particularly relevant as it stresses that the rationale for creating the group – the betterment of the lives of their citizens – still applies. In other words, the ideas behind the articles found in the declaration are even more important today than they were in 1964 and should be treated as such. This makes any violation of the articles even more severe than it would have been in 1964.
Article 9 succinctly states that “we believe in the peaceful settlement of conflicts through dialogue.” However, the Palestinians have a long history of making unilateral moves in pursuit of statehood, like applying for recognition in the ICC and UN Agencies. This is in direct violation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulate that neither side should initiate measures that would change the status of the Palestinian territories pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations. Additionally, Palestinian commitment to peace through dialogue is further called into question over the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying monthly stipends to terrorists and their families, known colloquially as “pay-to-slay,” which is openly included in the PA budget and incentivizes nationalistically motivated terror against Israelis to coerce them into surrendering to Palestinian demands without a final status agreement.
Article 15 states that: “We emphasize that our major priorities are promoting sustained, inclusive, and equitable economic growth.” However, as previously shown in the analysis for article 9, the Palestinian Authority incentivizes terror by paying monthly stipends to Palestinian prisoners, martyrs, and their families. These stipends amounted to $355 million, or 7 percent of the total PA budget for 2018. In 2017, the monthly salaries of Palestinian prisoners far exceeded the allowances given to the needy by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Social Development Welfare. Welfare recipients received a minimum of NIS 250 monthly, 18 percent of the NIS 1,400 minimum that prisoners received; and a maximum of NIS 600 monthly, 5 percent of the NIS 12,000 that prisoners received. The family of a martyr received a minimum of NIS 1,400 monthly, which is 5.6 times more than the minimum welfare allowance of NIS 250 and more than double the maximum of NIS 600. These payments are given to all prisoners, even those who engaged in terrorism, and to the families of martyrs, even if they were killed while engaging in terrorism. Sustained, inclusive, and equitable economic growth is not plausible while the Palestinian Authority continues to spend inordinate sums of money incentivizing terror, as opposed to incentivizing peace efforts. In fact, Chairman Mahmoud Abbas himself stated that he would continue these payments even if the Palestinian Authority “had only one penny left.”
Article 19 states: “We recognize the high importance of sustaining social protection and fostering job creation even in times of economic crisis.” However, as shown above, the Palestinian leadership would rather provide social protection to convicted terrorists and their families than to the ones who need the most assistance. If the $355 million were used to fund different causes, like increased financial assistance to the needy through the Ministry of Social Development and Welfare, investment, job creation, or infrastructure, then surely that would provide even a slight improvement to the general situation of the Palestinian people. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has a history of cutting the salaries of tens of thousands of their civil servants working in the Gaza Strip, as it did this past year. Actions like these only exacerbate the already dire working conditions and economic wellbeing shared by Palestinian workers in the impoverished territory.
Article 23 reaffirms the importance that the G-77 places on “supporting developing countries in their efforts to eradicate poverty by empowering the poor and people in vulnerable situations.” However, as seen in the analysis for article 15, the Palestinian leadership disproportionately provides funds to convicted terrorists and their families, instead of people in need of welfare. Surely, allocating the $355 million to the poor would have a more positive effect on the fight against poverty than funding terror.
Article 31 acknowledges that “it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth.” However, the Palestinian Authority has in the past enacted policies and enabled behavior that directly harmed the harmony with nature and the Earth. According to Professor Haim Gvirtzman, professor of hydrology at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University, member of the Israel Water Authority Council and advisor of the Israel-PA Joint Water Committee, the Palestinian Authority has been implementing policies that intentionally waste water and destroy the regional water ecology. They also refuse to develop their own sewage treatment plants, even though many countries have offered to financially support such a move. As a result, the excess of Palestinian untreated wastewater flows into Israel’s water resources, as well as their own, polluting them. The Palestinian Authority also supports illegal drilling into Israel’s water resources, which pollutes Israel’s natural reservoirs (250 illegal wells in the West Bank by 2005).
Additionally, in November 2016, Israel’s Civil Administration enforced environmental regulations against Palestinian charcoal plants that were not upholding anti-pollution regulations. The administration explained that despite issuing several warnings to the Palestinian Authority that it would take action against the charcoal plants if the Palestinian Authority did not enforce the anti-pollution regulations, as mandated by the Israeli High Court, the Palestinian Authority did not heed the warnings. Not only did the plants pollute the surrounding area, but there are also links to the ongoing pollution from the plants to respiratory problems suffered by 25 percent of the children in the Palestinian town of Ya’bad and respiratory illness (including cancer) suffered by 70 percent of the charcoal workers.
Articles 35-37 fall under the sub-section titled “improving the practice of democracy,” in which the G-77 reiterates that it “considers that democracy is a universal value.” However, the Palestinian Authority’s actions in recent years run antithetical to the practice of democracy. In 2006, the long-awaited Palestinian Legislative Council elections were held. Hamas had become increasingly popular in recent years, and this was reflected in the ballot box. After the votes were tallied, it became apparent that Hamas had indeed won the majority of votes. Despite claims that Hamas employed violence and intimidation in order to influence voters, the evidence available shows no indication of foul play from the Islamist organization.
Consequently, the 2006 elections can be said to accurately reflect the will of the Palestinian population. Hamas had won the election. Yet, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority refused to cede power to Hamas, completely subverting a democratic election.
Additionally, the argument that Fatah’s refusal to relinquish power to Hamas is legitimate because it is a terrorist organization is invalid. This is because even though many countries and institutions recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization, such as the United States, the European Union, Israel, and others, Fatah does not recognize Hamas as such. In other words, a democratic election was held between two parties, wherein the incumbent lost and refused to give up its power. That is anti-democratic.
Furthermore, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is now in the middle of the 13th year of his four-year term as president. His refusal to hold free and fair presidential elections at regular legally mandated intervals undermines Palestinian democracy. It is also worth noting that the Palestinian public themselves are clamoring for a change in leadership. In fact, a 2017 poll indicated that two-thirds of Palestinians want to see Abbas tender his resignation.
Moreover, according to Amnesty International, freedom of expression is systemically oppressed in the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority, which committed 147 attacks on media freedom in 2017. The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Palestine’s national human rights institution, received hundreds of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held in the West Bank and Gaza, and women continued to be oppressed by discriminatory policies. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also extensively documented the Palestinian Authority’s abuse of freedom of expression, which it says violates obligations that the Palestinian leadership had recently assumed in ratifying certain international treaties protecting that said right. In fact, in 2018 HRW published a scathing report detailing the systematic use of arbitrary arrest and torture the Palestinian Authority employs to its citizens. A government that stifles freedom of expression and practices arbitrary arrest and torture, especially to the extent that the Palestinian Authority practices them, cannot be considered democratic.
Article 40 emphasizes the duty that member states have to conserve and sustainably manage their natural resources. However, as shown in the analysis of article 31, water shortages in the Palestinian Authority are severe due to policies that deliberately waste water and destroy the regional water ecology. In addition to Gvirtzman’s previous findings, he elaborates that the Palestinians refuse to develop their own underground water resources, construct additional water desalination plants (despite being offered assistance by other countries), fix enormous leakages in their pipes, build wastewater treatment facilities, and bill their citizens for wasting water. Also, as previously shown in the analysis of article 31, the Palestinian Authority makes little effort in preventing pollution into natural water reserves, which harms the general water environment. These actions demonstrate the Palestinian Authority’s disregard for sustainable management of its resources, especially considering the immense value water holds in the Middle East.
Articles 43, 45 and 46 fall under the sub-section that calls for the eradication of poverty. The articles state that the G-77 attaches the highest priority to poverty eradication in the UN post-2015 development agenda (which would later become the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals). Article 46 in particular highlights the necessity of combatting corruption, as it can lead to ineffective resource mobilization, which weakens the fight against poverty. However, as illustrated in the analyses of article 15, the Palestinian Authority allocates 7 percent of its budget to funding terror, instead of distributing it to Palestinians below the poverty line. In addition, the Palestinian Authority itself has been recognized as an entity plagued by rampant corruption. This widespread corruption has been obvious since the 1990s and played a significant factor in the Palestinian Authority losing the 2006 PLC elections, and a 2017 report published by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) exposed that corruption had permeated much of the Palestinian Authority and runs all the way up to Chairman Abbas himself.
Articles 52 and 55 discuss the importance the G-77 places on sustained, inclusive, and equitable economic growth, as well as their deep concern about high levels of unemployment and underemployment worldwide, respectively. However, the unemployment rate in the Palestinian Authority was 32.4 percent in the second quarter of 2018, 5 percent higher than the 2017 average and the highest in 20 years. In the Gaza Strip, the unemployment rate stands at 53 percent, and over 70 percent among youth. The unemployment crisis in Gaza in particular is correlated with recent policies administered by the Palestinian Authority, which has substantially cut allowances and the salaries of its employees in Gaza by 30 percent in 2017, followed by a larger cut of 50 percent in 2018. Altogether, the number of PA employees fell by 26,000 since 2017. These policies have resulted in a liquidity squeeze for around 80 thousand families (almost one-quarter of Gazans) and have negatively affected economic activity in the Gaza Strip.
Articles 57-60 discuss the essential role that the state plays in ensuring that basic services are provided to its citizens, as this is a human right. However, the Palestinian Authority has in the past refused to pay for fuel for Gaza’s electrical power plants, which has resulted in less electricity available for Gaza daily (around four hours during most of 2018). Without adequate amounts of electricity, Gaza cannot pump enough drinking water for its citizens and cannot properly deal with sewage treatment. When Qatar volunteered to alleviate the crisis by investing $60 million-worth of fuel in the Gaza Strip, which would double the amount of electricity available to Gaza for six months, Chairman Abbas outright refused, and even threatened to exacerbate the situation for the Gazans should the deal go through without his approval. This has resulted in 97 percent of the drinking water in Gaza becoming contaminated. In other words, by denying fuel to the people of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority is depriving them of electricity and clean water.
Article 62 recognizes that everyone should have access, without discrimination, to a set of basic medical services for promotion, prevention, cure, and rehabilitation, and that the use of these services should not entail economic difficulties for people in vulnerable situations. However, the Palestinian Authority has a history of taking punitive measures against the residents of Gaza, such as declining to pay for medical supplies, delaying permits for treatment in Israel, or refusing to pay for treatment altogether. This resulted in the tragic deaths of three infants in the summer of 2017, for which the Palestinian Authority was widely condemned.
Articles 93-98 discuss various aspects of inclusion of women in development, women enjoying full and equal rights, reducing violence against women, and including a gender-oriented goal in the post-2015 development agenda. However, the Palestinian Authority is fraught with discrimination against women. This does not pertain exclusively to societal norms existing within the tribal-oriented Palestinian culture, which hinders women from enjoying equal rights due to discrepancies between the Palestinian legal system and the tribal judiciary, but also to current Palestinian legislation, which is a convolution of Jordanian, Egyptian, Palestinian, Ottoman, and British laws, as well as Israeli military law. For example, men can unilaterally divorce their wives without explanation, while women can only file for divorce under specific circumstances; adultery and incest crimes can only be filed by males; and no law forbidding spousal rape exists. The rationale for these laws under Part Seven of the 1960 Jordanian penal code and Part Seventeen in the British penal code, which applies to the Palestinian Authority in the matter of sexual crimes, is that women are “owned” by men. These examples are just some of the many discriminatory policies practiced in the PalestinianAuthority.
Article 194 calls for the end of extensive, arbitrary, and unlawful policies that enable governmental surveillance, collection, and interception of internet activity, personal data, and communications of individual citizens. However, in 2017 the Palestinian Authority adopted, in full secrecy from the public eye, the “Electronic Crimes Law,” which was aimed at quelling alleged cybercrimes. The law has been heavily criticized for its ambiguous language, being adopted without approval from the PLC or consultations from Palestinian civil society, and its infringement of basic rights, such as freedom of expression and privacy. The law imposes prison sentences and hefty fines on online users, including journalists and critics who disagree with the government. After the law was adopted, the Palestinian Authority arrested at least five Palestinian journalists across the West Bank, claiming they violated the law, and 29 websites that were critical of the Palestinian Authority were shut down. Following fierce public outcry and pressure from a coalition of 11 civil society organizations, the law was amended, taking out some problematic clauses which allow penalizing individuals with a fine or imprisonment. That being said, several other concerns highlighted in the original law related to excessive powers, illegal evidence gathering, and the power to shut down websites remained unchanged in the amended law. In addition, the new law was adopted without adequate consultation, thereby diminishing its legitimacy.
Article 201 expressed the G-77’s commitment to achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which in 2015 were replaced by Sustainable Development Goals, supporting many similar ideas. Some of the MDGs that the Palestinians violate include: eradication of poverty; promotion of gender equality; and ensuring environmental sustainability, as illustrated in the analyses of articles 23, 31, 40, 43, 45, 46, and 93-98. Violating these 12 articles is bad enough on its own, but by doing so, the Palestinians are inadvertently violating article 201 as well, resulting in a “double whammy” of violations. Of course, let us not forget that while all the principles found in the G-77’s declaration are significant in their own right, the MDGs, in particular, are so vital for global development that all 191 UN member states at the time had vowed to try and achieve them. Therefore, violating them should be considered especially problematic.
While not pertaining to a specific article, the necessity for member states to act according to the principles of international law is stressed 15 times throughout the declaration. However, the Palestinian Authority has violated international law on numerous occasions, including many of the 15 international treaties, conventions, and organizations they joined in April 2014. For example, they violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations when Czech police found unlicensed weapons and explosives in the Palestinian embassy in Prague. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Palestinian Authority put minimal effort into combatting some of the worst forms of child labor in their territory, in clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As articulated in the analysis of articles 93-98, the Palestinian Authority follows policies that discriminate against women in matters such as divorce and criminal proceedings, contrary to the principles of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which requires signatories to enact legislation to end discrimination against women. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is violated by the Palestinian Authority, which forbids by law the sale of property to Jews. In fact, in October 2018, a Palestinian-American citizen was arrested by the Palestinian Authority on suspicion of selling property to Jews in Jerusalem; and in 2009, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called for the death penalty for anyone who committed such an offense. Furthermore, demonization of Israel and the Jews is rampant in the PA-approved textbooks used in Palestinian schools, and disseminated constantly in the media. As exhibited in the analysis of articles 35-37, the Palestinian Authority makes use of torture and arbitrary arrest toward its citizens, in opposition to the principles of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Finally, the very act of the Palestinian Authority unilaterally applying for accession into international conventions, treaties, and organizations (intended for sovereign states), is in and of itself a violation of the Oslo Accords, and therefore of international law, as stated in the analysis of article 9. Specifically, it violates the Oslo II agreement, article XXXI – 7, where it states: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”Policy Recommendation
As shown above, the Palestinian leadership does not abide by at least 27 articles in the declaration, without including potential violations by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, this analysis recommends that the Palestinians are not an appropriate choice to chair the G-77 in 2019 and should thus be disqualified from their prospective position. The Palestinian Authority has demonstrated that it is incapable of adequately governing its own society and holding itself to the principles of the G-77 to which it has committed itself. These principles exist in many spheres, such as improving the practice of democracy, women’s rights, fighting government corruption, ensuring basic services, ensuring medical care, the eradication of poverty, and so on. A government that cannot accomplish this within its own territory will likely fail in accomplishing it in other territories as well. Should the situation change, and the Palestinian Authority undergo extensive organizational and administrative reformation of its leadership, policies, and legal system in such a way that would guarantee it could exist in harmony with the admirable principles set forth by the G-77, negotiations about leading the G-77 could begin again.
Critics of this policy proposal may belittle it, citing the oft-heard argument that no country has a perfect record. This is a fallacious argument, as it basically erodes the possibility of having a standard the G-77 can hold themselves to. It is true that the Palestinians are not the worst abusers of human rights in the G-77, nor do they abide by the outlined principles the least among the group’s members. However, if the group cannot find a member of this coalition better suited to lead them than the Palestinians, that is more telling of the status of the G-77 and developing states as a whole and should warrant further examination. Following this train of thought, one could likewise make the case that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two notorious human rights aggressors, could serve as chairman. Indeed, there are different degrees to which countries abuse human rights, and this article is not comparing the Palestinian Authority to either of the countries mentioned above, but theoretically, the same logic would apply. After all, no country has a perfect record.
The feasibility of this policy recommendation being adapted by the G-77 is minimal at best, due to the proximity to the actual date of the appointment and the unwavering support of 146 countries that voted in favor of the Palestinians’ appointment in the UNGA in October 2018. In fact, only three countries – the United States, Israel, and Australia – voted against the appointment, none of whom are members of the G-77. Amassing a coalition of developing states that would oppose the measure is a daunting task. However, that does not absolve the appointment’s detractors of their right to oppose it.
Conclusion and Summary
In conclusion, this article has analyzed, through the prism of available evidence, the laws, actions, and policies of the Palestinian Authority, to determine whether it acts in accordance with the fundamental principles of the G-77, as outlined explicitly in their 2014 declaration “For a new world order for living well.”
The analysis has led to the unequivocal conclusion that the PA government in the West Bank violates at least 27 articles found within the declaration. These violations frequently occur to the detriment of the Palestinian population, such as a corrupt, autocratic government that stifles freedom of expression, headed by a ruler who refuses to cede power, a general lack of women’s rights in the Palestinian Authority, and hampering sustained, inclusive, and equitable economic growth. Hence, a policy of disqualification of the Palestinian Authority from the position of chairman of the G-77 in the year 2019 is recommended.
Implementation of this recommendation is urgent and paramount, not only for the sake of the integrity of the G-77 as a whole, but for the sake of the innocent civilians who could be harmed by the Palestinian government’s appointment.
Eitan Fischberger, an intern at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is currently a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC). Previously, he interned at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in New York.