Sunday, January 22, 2006

USAID "Invisible Conduit" Supporting the Palestinian Authority Incumbents

Read the article by Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post. (January 22, 2006.)

According to this article, approximately $2 million is being used by a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) "to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group U.S. government logos appear with the projects or events being undertaken as part of the campaign, which bears no evidence of U.S. involvement and does not fall within the definitions of traditional development work."

I assume that the purpose is not to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority as such, but to support the incumbents running the PA in the election.

The article states:
Elements of the U.S.-funded program include a street-cleaning campaign, distributing free food and water to Palestinians at border crossings, donating computers to community centers and sponsoring a national youth soccer tournament....Plans called for roughly 40 small projects or events, ranging in cost from $5,000 to $50,000 each, that would benefit the Palestinian Authority. No USAID logos would be used......The point man in Abbas's office was his chief of staff, Husseini, a member of a prominent Jerusalem family. In an interview last week, Husseini said U.S. officials told him they had about $2 million to spend on 30 or so projects before the elections. He said his office provided them with "names of people who could do this best."

The article states that the program was controversial in USAID. I bet it was!

On the one hand, creating a fund to support small, "bottom-up" projects seems well within USAID's charter, and something the Agency could do well. Setting a deadline so that such funds would be dispersed in a timely fashion might be a good precedent to set for other donor programs.

On the other hand, the effort could easily be seen as a covert approach to influencing an election, and using USAID as a cover for the program.

I think long-term nation building is an ethical imperative to attack poverty. Long-term nation building is also needed if we are to really reduce the numbers of people who so dislike the United States that they are willing to support terrorists. Our bilateral assistance programs should be a valuable tool in such nation building, since bilaterally we can allocate the resources where they will most serve priority interests of the United States. If, however, bilateral assistance is perceived as a cover for fixing elections and interfering in the affairs of other nations, it will be much less effective at nation building!

If there really is a need to spend a couple of million dollars to shore up the election of Abbas and his party, surely there are other, better ways to channel the money than through USAID! Doing this in so clumsy a manner that it hits the front page of the Washington Post just before the election is just dumb.

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