Mar 31 2013

Palestinians in Jerusalem Skeptical of Arab Support

Published by at 11:41 am under Articles,Palestinian politics



By Daoud Kuttab

Before the Arab League summit ended its one-day deliberations Tuesday, Palestinians were already publicly skeptical about the effectiveness of Arabs in as far as their ability to do anything about Jerusalem.

Khalil Assali, a Jerusalemite, and one of the most consistent writers on Jerusalem, blasted Arab leaders for their repeated promises, but failures when it comes to the delivery of these promises. Assali’s latest column, which appeared on the Palestine News Network, Akhbar el-Balad radio and Ammannet online, recalled the many previous Arab summit promises on both the political and financial levels.

Assali says that of the $500 million pledged to Jerusalem in the Arab summit held in the Libyan town of Sirte in 2010, only $34 million made it to the Holy City. For Assali and his regular columns dedicated to Jerusalem, the problem is not about whether money reaches specific individuals as much as it is about institutions in Jerusalem that are deteriorating due to a lack of support.

Education in Jerusalem is failing miserably, health issues are not attended to and tourism to the city is an Israeli monopoly. Culturally, Palestinians in Jerusalem protest the low level that the city has reached in recent years due to the isolation that are caused by walls and an absence of interest.

Jerusalemites like Assali spare no one in blame for the bad situation that has befallen the Holy City. The Palestinian leadership, which is bogged down in Ramallah, gets a large portion of the blame for abandoning what is to be the capital of the state of Palestine. While Israel wages war on the Palestinian Authority every time it tries to do anything in Jerusalem, this doesn’t save them from the wrath of Jerusalemites who feel that Palestinian national leaders both in the city and outside it are politically and financially corrupt.

Next in line for criticism is the Islamic Waqf, which is the official organization responsible for all Islamic sites. Officially the Ministry of Awqaf (endowment) is a Jordanian ministry, but with close ties and coordination with the Ramallah-based Ministry of Waqf. Al-Awqaf is criticized for falling way short of what is needed to stand up to aggressive Israeli and Jewish efforts in Jerusalem , especially in the old city. Efforts to Judaize the city are confronted by archaic and bureaucratic policies and personnel that are no match to the well-financed, high-powered right-wing Jews and, in general, the Israeli government and institutions.

For more than 46 years the people of the eastern section of Jerusalem have been caught in a bind. Israel has forcefully and unilaterally annexed east Jerusalem to the state of Israel, creating what is called the “unified” city of Jerusalem, but Palestinians have refused to accept this decision. Palestinian refusal has been translated in an official boycott of all Israeli institutions including the “unified” municipality and its elections — an act that has ensured that Israelis occupy every seat on the ‘unified’ city’s council, thus allowing them a free hand in municipal decisions concerning the city.

On the other hand, Palestinian efforts to create any alternative national entity or institutions have failed due in part to internal divisions, and the absence of consistent funding. Schools that have defied Israeli attempts to join their curricula have found themselves forced to either lower their educational levels or to charge high fees that most Jerusalemites can’t afford. Hospitals and other institutions, who for years have been providing needed high quality medical support to Palestinians from all over Palestine, have raked up huge debts in large part because of the Ramallah government’s inability to pay their bills.

While governmental and major institutions have failed, Jerusalem’s local institutions have also suffered both from lack of funding and dictatorial leaderships. Most local institutions in Jerusalem today are run by single individuals, leaving the health of the institution dependent on this individual’s ability to raise funds to keep the organization running. Cases of individual fraud and corruption are rampant because of a lack of supervision and monitoring.

The Israelis are not interested in Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem and the Palestinian leadership is unable to do anything even if it believes some institutions or individuals are corrupt. Even Jerusalem-based media, such as the widest circulating daily newspaper Al-Quds, have been unable to do anything about the problems facing Jerusalemites. This is in part due to the rise of mafia-like gangs that threaten and blackmail any attempts at major reform in the city.

The sad case of Jerusalem needs a strategic holistic national approach that includes, but not limited to financial support.  Years of ignoring the city and diverting funds to specific organizations and individuals has had its toll on the city and these problems can’t be solved just by throwing money at it. Arab financial support, if it does materialize (and this is a big if) and provided it goes to the correct address, could help. But unless this support is integrated into a large and transparent policy for the city, it is unlikely that it will yield any serious results.

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