By Glenn Kessler
“There’s a lot of impatience with the Palestinian issue. … People have been funding this thing for a long time. They’ve gotten more aid than any group of people in history, and what we have to show for it is really not much at this point, unfortunately.”
— White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, remarks at Soref Symposium dinner hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May 2
President Trump’s son-in-law has been crafting a still-secret plan designed to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These remarks — that the Palestinians “have gotten more aid than any group of people in history” — cried out for a fact check.
Is this really the case?
The Trump administration has been unbashfully pro-Israel in its approach to the long-running conflict, recognizing, for instance, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a diplomatic step that previous presidents had held in reserve as part of final status talks. The administration has also cut off aid to the Palestinians, including to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian territories Refugees (UNRWA). In response, Palestinian officials have all but ended talks with the administration.
So we were not surprised when a senior White House official told The Fact Checker that Kushner “was referring to development and humanitarian funding received per capita since the Oslo accords” signed in 1993. Irritatingly, the official refused to provide a number, even though a figure was supposedly calculated.
But notice that Kushner framed it publicly as “more aid than any group of people in history” and then narrows it down to just development and humanitarian aid in the past quarter-century when directly queried. That’s because when it comes to all aid, Israel has received more aid than the Palestinians, even on a per-capita basis, according to U.S. government data.
We should warn readers that it’s hard to track down exactly how much foreign aid is distributed and received. A lot depends on definitions, data collection and other factors, and it can vary from source to source.
Since we don’t know the number that Kushner supposedly calculated, we will start with a figure on the website of the U.S. Agency for International Development for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip: $450.69 per capita in 2017.
The World Bank has a similar figure, derived from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data for “official development assistance,” but the World Bank offers yearly figures going back to 1993. The World Bank shows that the per-capita number for the Palestinians fluctuates from a low of $79 per capita in 1993 to a high of $764 in 2009. It averages out to $398 over nearly a quarter-century.
We should note that both data sets show other countries received more per capita in aid in 2017 than the Palestinians, such as Syria ($567), Tonga ($744) and Kiribati ($663). But Kushner was clearly speaking over a period of time — as he put it, “more aid than any group of people in history.”
Kushner also appears to be adding in contributions to UNRWA, which provides services to 5 million people who are refugees from the 1948 conflict or their descendants. Some, if not all, UNRWA funding appears to be counted already in the OECD calculations for the West Bank and Gaza. Since the White House refused to explain his math, we have to stick with the World Bank and USAID estimates.
Further complicating matters, these per-capita figures for the Palestinians may be too high because of possible double-counting. The OECD data set does not clarify whether the member states’ contributions include only bilateral aid to the West Bank and Gaza, or if they also include member states’ contributions to European Union institutions that are designated for aid to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
So we will stick with $398 per capita as a rough estimate for aid to the Palestinians. The only other source we found was the (admittedly dated) 2004 Palestinian territories Human Development Report, which calculated $310 per person, “considered one of the highest levels of aid in the world.”
Now, let’s compare the Palestinians with the Israelis. We should note the OECD data is reported on a calendar year basis while U.S. foreign aid is reported on a fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) basis. U.S. foreign aid includes economic and military assistance, while the OECD data reflects financial support to improve health, infrastructure, governance and so forth.
Israel used to receive a lot of economic aid from the United States until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut a deal in 2007 to convert it all to military aid. Using non-inflation-adjusted dollars, the Israelis received $34.2 billion in economic aid from the United States between 1946 and 2007, according to calculations by the Congressional Research Service. (Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly described the CRS calculations as constant dollars.) A CRS spokesman said that in constant (inflation-adjusted) 2017 dollars, the figure would be $68.9 billion.
(Germany also has been a major contributor to Israel’s economy in the years after its founding, mostly in the form of reparations said to be worth between $32 billion and $60 billion to Israel and its citizens. But to keep it simple, we will focus on U.S. contributions.)
The Palestinians, meanwhile, have received about $37.2 billion in development aid (in constant dollars) between 1994 and 2017, according to the OECD. The U.S. share of that was about $8.2 billion, according to the OECD. (The State Department, under a broader definition of aid, records U.S. assistance to the West Bank and Gaza as totaling $9.1 billion since 1988.) Some Arab donations are included but the OECD database does not reflect, for instance, Qatar’s contributions to Gaza, which totaled $1.1 billion between 2012 and 2018 with the approval of the Israeli government.
To be conservative, we will round up the total Palestinian aid to $40 billion. In other words, the Palestinians received less from the international community than what Israel received from the United States in terms of economic aid. (Some Palestinian experts also argue that much of the U.S. developmental aid for the West Bank and Gaza was focused on enhancing security for Israel rather than bolstering the economy of Palestinian areas.)
To some extent, however, aid money is fungible. Every dollar Israel receives for its military means one more dollar it can spend on internal development. So ignoring U.S. military aid to Israel provides an incomplete picture.
Israel has received nearly $95 billion in military aid and an additional $6 billion for missile defense from the United States, bringing its total aid (in non-inflation adjusted dollars) to nearly $135 billion, according to the CRS calculations. (These figures do not include loan guarantees, which have been extended at times to help Israel absorb economic shocks. Israel currently has nearly $4 billion it can borrow.)
Inflation-adjusted figures are more useful for tracking payments over time.
The State Department’s foreign aid database shows that U.S. aid to Israel totaled $228 billion in constant 2017 dollars between 1951 and 2017. U.S. assistance to Israel was especially significant in some years, topping $10 billion in 1974 and $13 billion in 1979. These figures were so unexpectedly high that we confirmed them with the State Department to make sure the calculations were correct.
Put another way, Israel has been getting an average of $3.5 billion a year for 66 years — just from the United States — while the Palestinians have received about $1.7 billion a year from international donors. Even if the Palestinian figure is undercounted somewhat — such as some UNWRA funding not recorded in these statistics — there’s little chance it can match the aid figure for Israel.
If we count just from the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, Israel still has received $95 billion in constant daollars, more than twice as much aid as the Palestinians in that time period.
Even today, aid is roughly matched for Israel and the Palestinians. In 2017, U.S. aid to Israel was $429 per capita, compared with $451 per capita for the Palestinians.
Source: The Washington Post