This article was originally published in September, 2005 following the release of the UN Human Development Report.
UN Human Development Report Refutes Arab Claims
By Israel Zwick
On September 7, 2005, the UN Development Programme released its Human Development Report 2005 (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 3 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 “Aid 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 3 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 3 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 results 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 1990’s the OPT registered some improvement in human development but the second intifada beginning in Sept. 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 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$ per capita in 2003, which is the second highest amount in the entire list. Only Cape Verde received more, with 305.7 US$ 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 because the area is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. 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.
In the interest of brevity, this article is being divided into two parts. Part II, will deal with the other two UNDP reports: the Arab HDR 2004, from April 5, 2005 and HDR 2004 from July 15, 2004. Interested readers are encouraged to obtain both reports from www.undp.org.
On April 7, 2005 the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted its infamous resolution 2005/1 which was critical of Israel and supported the “Palestinian people” without even once mentioning the role of terrorism. This resolution was adopted two days after the UN Development Programme released its Arab Human Development Report 2004. (www.rbas.undp.org). According to a press release accompanying the report, “The Report team brings together some of the region’s top scholars, researchers, civil society actors, and opinion makers. The Report is a collation of their experience, knowledge, data and analysis, and represents years of critical study, fact-finding, publications, and activism. The team was selected to represent the different perspectives, areas of expertise, and local insights that proliferate in the Arab region.” This team of experts produced a lengthy, detailed document that began with an 18-page Executive Summary. On the opening page, the authors state, “Of all the impediments to an Arab renaissance, political restrictions on human development are the most stubborn. This Report therefore focuses on the acute deficit of freedom and good governance.”
While the beginning sounds encouraging, the authors change their tune on the next page: “The continued occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel, the US-led occupation of Iraq, and the escalation of terrorism adversely influenced Arab human development. Then in boldface type the Report continues, “Israeli occupation of Palestine continues to impede human development and freedom.” After vilifying Israel for a page, the Report continues, “As a result of the invasion of their country, the Iraqi people have emerged from the grip of a despotic regime that violated their basic rights and freedoms, only to fall under a foreign occupation that increased human suffering.” The report then goes on to vilify the “occupation forces.”
To fully appreciate the absurdity of these claims, one needs to appreciate the size and scope of the Arab World. According to the CIA World Factbook and the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, “The Arab world comprises 22 countries stretching from Morocco in the west to Oman in the east. They have a combined population of 300 million people and their combined economies surpass 1 trillion US dollars annually…The Arab world stretches across more than 11 million square kilometers. Its total area is the size of the entire Spanish-speaking Western hemisphere, larger than Canada, China, the United States, Brazil, or Europe…” In contrast, the West Bank and Gaza consists of about 6000 sq. km and contains about 3 million Arabs. Yet, according to the Report’s expert authors, the primary impediment to Arab progress is the mother of all evils, “The Occupation.” This is reminiscent of Jackie Mason’s humorous monologue on “The Metabolism.” Mason observed that Jews were fond of blaming their excessive weight, not on the chulent and kugel that they eat, but on “the metabolism.”
After spending three pages on vilifying Israel and the United States, the Executive Summary spends the next fifteen pages discussing “The State of Freedom and Good Governance” in the Arab region. This is where the authors actually display their knowledge and expertise. They discuss the lack of civil and political freedoms in the Arab world and how it affects economic and social rights. The authors conclude, “By 21st century standards, Arab countries have not met the Arab peoples’ aspirations for development, security, and liberation.” Their recommendation is to reform Arab societal structures to guarantee freedom: “The reform required in Arab countries will be marked by the total respect of the key freedoms of opinion, expression, and association in Arab countries and the ending of all types of marginalization of, and discrimination against social groups. It will eliminate all types of extra-legal arrangements such as emergency laws and exceptional courts. It will lay down the foundations for the principles of transparency and disclosure in all organizations throughout Arab society.”
This latter aspect of the Arab HDR 2004 was emphasized in the press releases distributed by William Orme, UNDP, Chief of Media. In the press release titled “Some Questions and Answers About AHDR 2004” the main findings and conclusion are emphasized: “The Report concludes that the situation of freedom and good governance in the Arab world ranges from deficient to seriously deficient. Despite sporadic improvements in the human rights situation in some Arab countries, the overall human rights picture in the Arab world is grave and deteriorating. The freedom and human rights of Arabs under occupation, particularly in Palestine, are being seriously violated. Even in independent Arab countries, there is a serious gap in freedom and good governance. Authoritarian regimes severely restrict freedoms and the right to political participation and civil activity to ensure that no opposition arises to challenge their unrepresentative form of government. Constitutional rights are also violated as authoritarian regimes take control of the law and manipulate it to reinforce their grip on power and serve their own interests.” Then it goes on to blame the occupation in Palestine: “At the regional level, the Arab populations under occupation, particularly in Palestine, are deprived of many of their basic freedoms and their human rights. This has a direct impact on the situation in other Arab countries, and provides authoritarian Arab regimes with the excuse of an external threat to postpone reform and movement towards more representative forms of government. It also distracts the attention of political and civil society forces from efforts to achieve freedom and good governance, and focuses it instead on supporting the struggle to end occupation.” That is, the Arab governments are using the Israeli occupation as an excuse to maintain the repression of their people.
Finally, the press release summarizes the major recommendations of the report: “The Report recommends that Arab countries sign all declarations, covenants and treaties that together make up international law, and incorporate these provisions into their constitutions and reflect them in their legal systems. The Report also calls for a gradual and negotiated transition of power to representative forms of government. The first step in the process would be to unleash civil society forces and allow the three key freedoms of opinion, expression and association—a move that would generate a dynamic debate on how to achieve the transition. Arab intellectual, political and civil society vanguards must shake off their apathy and contribute towards creating an intellectual framework and atmosphere conducive to freedom and good governance. This should lead to the emergence of an elite representing all sectors of society, both inside and outside government, to spearhead the movement towards good governance, and ultimately, to an Arab renaissance. The process should include reforming the political system to allow full participation through free and fair elections, the results of which must be fully respected. There should be a separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, with the independence of the latter institutionally guaranteed.” In other words, the Arabs have to stop blaming the Jews, Israel, and the United States for the misery and poverty. Their problems are mostly self-inflicted and they have to heal themselves.
The UNDP distributed seven other press releases that were critical of the Arab governments and their lack of freedom. In order to maintain brevity, these reports will not be discussed here. Interested readers are encouraged to obtain them from the AHDR 2004 Press Kit website:
Each press release is only a few pages long and is very informative and enlightening. After reading them, one will understand how insignificant the Israeli occupation really is. The Arab governments use it as an excuse for their own failures. Actually, the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza follows UN recommendations to promote multicultural diversity. The Palestinian Arabs benefited economically and socially from their association with the more democratic and advanced Israeli society until they unleashed the second intifada in September, 2000. That’s when their situation deteriorated as a result of their emphasis on violence and the subsequent Israeli measures to protect the Jewish population from Arab suicide bombers.
Based on the information provided by the UN’s own research, it’s time to stop talking about the “plight of the Palestinian refugees” and “suffering of the Palestinian people under the harsh israeli occupation.” If the international community really wants to help the Palestinian Arabs, it should realize that the 3 million Arabs living in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria will benefit more from an association with Israel than by establishing their own sovereign micro-state. Other governmental arrangements, such as a federation or commonwealth, should be considered instead.