The UN Refutes Palestinian Claims - Part I

While the UN is eager to condemn Israel for violating Palestinian rights, its own data suggests otherwise.

Israel Zwick

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On September 7, 2005, the UN Development Programme released its Human Development Report 2005 (see www.undp. org). If carefully reviewed, this report has widespread implications for the Arab-Israeli conflict. While the UN is eager to condemn Israel for violating Palestinian rights, its own data suggests otherwise.

The data disputes Palestinian claims that they are suffering as a result of a harsh Israeli military occupation. On the contrary, the Palestinians have actually benefited from their association with the State of Israel and their difficulties are the result of self-inflicted wounds. Palestinian problems stem from their intolerance, hostility, violence and corruption, not from Israeli occupation. Those in the world who are concerned about the "plight of the Palestinian refugees" should carefully review this report. They may want to reconsider their support for establishing a Palestinian state. Two other reports from the UNDP, the Arab Human Development Report 2004, and HDR 2004, also raise serious questions regarding the wisdom of establishing a Palestinian State in lands currently controlled by Israel.

The mammoth 372-page report is titled "Human Development Report 2005: International Cooperation at a Crossroads". The introductory material notes that 2.5 billion people in the world, which is 40% of the world's population, are living on less than $2 per day. About half of that population, 20% of humanity, is living on less than $1 per day (p. 4, 24). The report emphasizes the significance of violent conflict as a barrier to progress: "Conflict undermines nutrition and public health, destroys education systems, devastates livelihoods, and retards prospects for economic growth.... Part of the challenge posed by human insecurity and violent conflict can be traced to weak, fragile, and failing states. Compounded failures to protect people against security risks, to provide for basic needs and to develop political institutions perceived as legitimate are standing features of conflict-prone states." (p. 12) The report observes that in 2003 there were 29 ongoing violent conflicts, down from 51 in 1991. In Sudan alone, the conflict has claimed two million lives and displaced 6 million people (p. 153).

Yet, the focus of world sympathy and concern seems to be directed towards three million Arabs living in Israeli territories who are receiving the highest amount of aid in the world on a per capita basis.

The HDR 2005 views human progress through a human development index (HDI), which is a composite indicator of three dimensions of human welfare: income, education and health. The HDI is a barometer for changes in human well-being and for comparing progress in different regions (p. 21). The numerous tables include data for 175 UN member countries, along with Hong Kong, China (SAR) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Countries and areas are ranked in descending order by their HDI value (p. 211.) The report notes that "large gaps between wealth and HDI rankings are usually an indicator of deep structural inequalities that block the transmission from wealth creation to human development. They also point to shortcomings in public policy, with governments failing to put in place strategies for extending opportunities among poor, marginalized, or disadvantaged groups." (p. 24)

While the world laments over the treatment of Arabs at Israeli checkpoints, 10 million children die each year before their fifth birthday. More than 850 million people in the world are suffering from malnutrition and its effects (p. 24). The risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes ranges from 1 in 18 in Nigeria to 1 in 8,700 in Canada (p. 32). Sub-Saharan Africa had almost 100 million more people living on less than $1 per day in 2001 than in 1990. In contrast, the share of people living on less than $1 per day in the Middle East and North Africa decreased from 5.1% in 1981 to 2.4% in 2001. The report observes that "[a]id has not always played a positive role in supporting human development, partly because of failures on the side of aid recipients and partly because donor countries have allowed strategic considerations to override development concerns." (p. 75)

The HDR chapter that is most relevant to the Arab-Israeli conflict is Chapter 5, dealing with violent conflict. The chapter opens with a quote from UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan: "What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations." The report notes that since 1990, more than three million people have died in armed conflict, mostly in developing countries. About 25 million people are currently internally displaced because of conflict or human rights violations (p. 151). Yet, the most international aid is still directed towards three million Arabs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the State of Israel is most often cited by the UN for human rights violations. The data provided by HDR 2005 suggests that the difficulties experienced by the Palestinian Arabs largely result from their own policies, not from oppression by the State of Israel.

The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are cited as an example of how human development is being reversed (p. 158). In the 1990s, the OPT registered some improvement in human development, but the second intifada, beginning in September 2000, resulted "in a sharp deterioration in living standards and life chances." The poverty rate more than doubled from 20% in 1999 to 55% in 2003. The town of Nablus was cited as a prosperous commercial hub prior to September 2000. The intifada resulted in shops closing, workers selling their tools and farmers selling their land (p. 158). HDR observes that "violent conflict is one of the surest and fastest routes to the bottom of the HDI table." (p. 154) "Violent conflict creates losses that are transmitted across whole economies, undermining the potential for growth. With fewer assets and less capacity to respond to losses in income and assets, poor people are especially vulnerable to the economic impact of the conflict." (p. 155)

Much of the blame for the deterioration in human conditions is placed on government failures: "The collapse of effective authority in some countries has undermined capacity to prevent and resolve conflict. Governments lacking either the means or the will to fulfill their core functions, including territorial control, provision of basic services, management of public resources and protection of the livelihoods of the poorest people, are both a cause and consequence of violent conflict.... In security terms, a cohesive and peaceful international system is far more likely to be achieved through the cooperation of effective states... than in an environment of fragile, collapsed, fragmenting or generally chaotic state entities." (p. 162)

The most revealing data in HDR 2005 can be found in the tables beginning on page 211. The 177 countries in the HDI are classified into three clusters by achievement in human development: high human development with an HDI of 0.8 or above, medium human development with an HDI of 0.5 to 0.8, and low human development with an HDI of less than 0.5. The data is based on information from the year 2003. In these tables, Israel is listed in the high cluster with a rank of 23 and HDI of 0.915 (p. 219). The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are in the medium cluster with a rank of 102 and HDI of 0.729 (p. 220). That means that there are 75 countries listed below OPT. Overall, the Arab states have an HDI of 0.679, which suggests that the Arabs living in OPT have better human conditions than their counterparts in other Arab-Muslim countries.

Even more revealing are the income and poverty tables (p. 228). On the Human Poverty Index, the OPT is ranked seventh on a list of 103 developing countries. It is on par with Cuba, Singapore and Colombia. The other Arab countries are ranked below the OPT. Wealthy Saudi Arabia is ranked 32. Egypt is ranked 55.

The table on page 281 lists the amount of official development assistance (ODA) received among the 177 HDI areas. OPT received 288.6 US dollars per capita in 2003, which is the second highest amount in the entire list. Only Cape Verde received more, with 305.7 US dollars per capita. Yet, because of violent conflict, the OPT experienced a decline in HDI. This suggests that all of this aid was not being used to improve human welfare in the OPT. On page 312, there is a table titled, "Gender inequality in economic activity." The OPT has the lowest rate of female economic activity among the 177 countries, with a rate of 9.6%, or 14% of the male rate. This suggests that almost all of the aid money is going to provide employment for males. This may explain how the various militias in OPT are being funded.

The implication is that the high amount of aid going to OPT is funding militias and promoting violent conflict, instead of improving the lives of the population. Israel, as the occupying power, should be absolved of any blame. The Palestinian Arabs are suffering from deep, self-inflicted wounds, not from Israeli occupation. The population would not benefit from the establishment of an independent state that would only continue a policy of intolerance, discrimination, corruption and violence.