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Some weeks ago, the Deputy Prime Minister visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories. From all accounts her visit was well received by all parties. She had taken an informed, balanced, albeit cautious approach towards her tour and has been equally diligent in the way she has shared her experiences since.

As Ms Gillard’s political star continues to rise, the high regard that much of the Australian Jewish community extends towards her seems to be well deserved. In the current political climate it is harder for Labour to win the support of Australian Jewry, firstly because of the outstanding leadership and strong support of Israel shown by the Howard Government and Alexander Downer, and secondly because some influences within the Labour party, for example the misguided hostility of Julia Irwin.

At a time when Obama’s policy on Israel is showing itself to be a train wreck in the making, it is even more important for Australia to maintain its sense of moral clarity.

Therefore it was with some note that the office of Stephen Smith supported Julia Gillard’s trip with a further $10 million donation to the Palestinian Authority 

“for essential services such as education and health care for the Palestinian people”. Furthermore, it was clarified that this assistance would be “provided through the World Bank-managed trust fund”. “The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised Australia’s support for the Palestinian Authority and ongoing commitment to assist vulnerable Palestinians in partnership with the UNRWA, UN agencies, Australian and international non-government organisations.”

Our Government also notes that:

“Since 2007 Australia has committed over $75 million in development and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Territories.”

I don’t question that any well meaning Australian would object to international aid, particularly when it is humanitarian in nature. However, it does concern me that my taxpayer money is being directed to a regime that is still failing to meet its obligations to a process of peace. It concerns me even more that the lack of control over the end direction of this money may see it directed towards funding hostility and attacks against Israel.

It is also worth noting that the Arab world itself has significantly reduced its payments to the Palestinian Government. Mohammad Yaghi Lafer, international fellow at The Washington Institute, writes that:

“Eighteen months have passed since the Paris donor conference, where members of the international community promised the Palestinian government $1.45 billion in assistance for its 2009 budget. The Palestinian Authority (PA), however, has received less than a quarter of this amount, and Arab governments in particular have fallen short, contributing only $78 million of the $600 million pledged. Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayad has been forced to borrow $530 million from local banks this year in order to pay the salaries of PA employees, who with their families constitute one-quarter of the Palestinian population.” “While international donors pledged an impressive $7.7 billion at the November 2007 Paris conference and $4.2 billion at the March 2009 Sharm al-Sheikh conference to rebuild Gaza and support the PA budget, the lack of follow-through this year by Arab governments has left the Fayad government in a precarious position.”

I often wonder the extent to which Australia follows an audit trail of its donor funds, and ensures they are legitimately acquitted against the projects to which they were directed.

Israel, and for that matter Australia, well knows that the UN and its agency UNRWA have a track record of intransigence that spans decades. It is a politically charged recipient of funds that extends beyond humanitarian causes, and has been accused of funding terrorists through its activities.

I wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs expressing my concerns about the potential of Australian donor funds being used to fund terrorism. I received a response that notes Australia has:

 “fully implemented UNSCR 1373 through a terrorist asset freezing regime”.

In response to my specific concern the Government advised:

“The Government is determined to ensure that aid is not inadvertently provided to any terrorist organisations. Australia’s development assistance to the Palestinian Authority is provided through a World Bank administered trust fund, and directly to UN agencies and international and Australian non-government organisations. The agreements between the Government and these partners include counter terrorism clauses, and accountability mechanisms, to ensure that this money benefits the people for whom it is intended.”

My questions back, yet to be responded to, are:

What exactly are the agreements between the Government and its third party aid distributors that ensure the money does not go towards terrorist activities?

To what extent is this directly audited by the Government?

What operational controls are in place to stop the PA using these funds to directly or indirectly fund terrorism?

Why should the PA receive Australian taxpayer money when it still refuses to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State, when it still educates its society towards the complete destruction of Israel, and still fails to meet its Roadmap obligations that were a pre-requisite condition upon which funds were pledged?

I urge Julia Gillard, Stephen Smith, and the Australian Government to place greater control and scrutiny on the provision and direction of Australian aid to the Palestinian people. I wonder if they have given any consideration to delivering aid to Israel too, such as the victims of the Sderot bombings, the family of Gilad Shalit, the evicted and uncompensated residents of Gush Katif…….

I leave you with the words of Col Moshe Elad:

“Another obstacle is the bottomless barrel of aid funds to the Palestinians, whose billions in contributions only amounted to boosting terror groups in our region. In any other place in the world, the funds donated to the Palestinian Authority would have been sufficient to establish industrial infrastructure, provide employment, housing, and a car to each worker. However, in the “territories” these funds have been swallowed up by terror arms and private pockets.”

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