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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

A Very Political Economy: Peacebuilding and Foreign Aid in the West Bank and Gaza
Rex Brynen

Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2000
296pp. Pb.: $19.95; ISBN 1-929223-04-8

Building on a peace agreement is an expensive process. Economies need rejuvenated, infrastructure rehabilitated, political structures strengthened and the security sector overhauled. Peacebuilding comes with a price tag far too high for most signatories of an agreement to afford; the international donor community almost always foots the bill. As they have done so questions are increasingly being posed about their motives and the impact and effectiveness of that aid.

Rex Brynen considers foreign aid donations to the Palestinians since the signature of the Oslo Accord in 1993 with a mind to answering these questions. Since then, over $4 billion has been pumped into the West Bank and Gaza by a host of foreign governments and international institutions to a variety of purposes with the overall objective of bolstering the agreement. The book sets out who gave what and why.

There could not be a finer book on this complex topic. Spunkily written and crammed full of useful statistics, the reader is confidently led through the thick alphabet soup of donors, agencies and committees while the wider political context is never lost sight of. The politics of aid is looked at from a number of different perspectives: international, Israeli and Palestinian, each one excellent and even-handed. It is entertainingly written, with vignettes about inter-agency and inter-Palestinian squabbling for pieces of the aid pie being particularly well observed. Interesting factoids continually crop up. For example, although the amount of money given in the first five years is high in relation to comparable cases elsewhere, it is still just equivalent to the amount of money the USA pledges to Israel in a single year. The book's conclusions are well thought through and challenge conventional wisdom. To give an example, Brynen debunks the popular image of the Palestinian Authority as mired in corruption, holding them to be much more clean and transparent than other recipients of peacebuilding assistance as well as it's Arab neighbours. Its conclusions are also useful comparatively. In setting out what worked and what didn't foreign aid wise in the West Bank and Gaza, Brynen's laundry list of dos and don'ts can be applied elsewhere.

The book cannot come too highly recommended. As well as being an object lesson in how to write an accessible yet academic work, it is one it is one of the best written on recent Israeli-Palestinian relations and is a must-read for academics and practitioners interested in the politics of foreign aid.

Gordon Peake

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