Support for Iraq costs Palestinian people, institutions Kuwait's aid

September 19, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

ABU DIS, ISRAELI-OCCUPIES WEST BANK — ABU DIS, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- When Mohammed Nusseibeh shows off the College of Science and Technology, everything that used to be a source of pride is now a cause for embarrassment. Mr. Nusseibeh, the chancellor, knows this is a Palestinian campus built by Kuwait.

Kuwaiti money paid for the classrooms, equipped the laboratories, bought the library books and furnished the offices, including Mr. Nusseibeh's. Then came Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and a bitter parting of ways between Palestinians and the states of the Persian Gulf.

"I don't think they have our budget very much in mind," Mr. Nusseibeh sighed. "All of a sudden our funds have been cut off. We are scratching our heads trying to get help."

One of the unforeseen consequences of Iraq's military adventures is the prospect of financial ruin in the West Bank and Gaza Stripfor dozens of Palestinian institutions and thousands of Palestinian families.

For more than 20 years, the oil-producing states of the gulf have been the primary source of money for virtually everything Palestinians could call their own. Gulf states paid for schools and hospitals, underwrote scholarships and medical care, supplied ambulances and prayer books.

Some of the money was contributed by the ruling families. The rest was collected through a tax on the salaries of Palestinians working in the region -- hundreds of millions of dollars a year channeled to the Palestine Liberation Organization to distribute as it chose.

There also were the earnings of Palestinians working in the region, including about 23,000 with families still in the West Bank and dependent on their support.

That symbiotic relationship appears to be at an end. For the gulf states, the PLO, which has thrown its support behind Iraq, is a pariah, not a partner. Palestinian workers are a

fifth column, not brothers. And thousands of Palestinians in the gulf are now jobless and risk harassment and even expulsion.

"A lot of institutions have been hurt, and so have a lot of individuals," said Manuel Hassa Saim, professor of political science at Bethlehem University. "The PLO is in economic trouble, and we don't know who is going to pay our bills."

Of all the gulf countries, the most generous was Kuwait. It had the largest Palestinian community -- at least 300,000 of the roughly 600,000 Palestinians in the region -- and the greatest willingness to act as a long-term patron for Palestinian institutions.

Of the $16 million a year spent by the six Palestinian colleges in the West Bank, about $12 million came from Kuwait. At the College of Science and Technology, Kuwait contributed the entire budget from 1967 to 1981 and then began sharing the expense with the PLO, whose own money came largely from the gulf.

0 Mr. Nusseibeh is being buffeted by a variety

forces beyond his control:

In early 1988, Israeli authorities ordered the school closed as a result of the Palestinian uprising. This summer, they authorized the school to reopen for the fall term, and more than 400 students enrolled. And now Mr. Nusseibeh must manage an institution that has emerged from a long hibernation at the moment when its patron is in grave danger and alienated from almost everything Palestinian.

"We don't have any funds to get us beyond the next month or two," said Mr. Nusseibeh, who oversees a staff of 200.

Similar problems exist in East Jerusalem at Mokassed Hospital, the largest and best-equipped Palestinian medical facility. Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have contributed about 70 percent of the $15 million annual budget, with Kuwait providing the largest single share.

Mokassed's deposits in Kuwaiti banks are presumed lost, as are the chances of persuading other Arab countries to offer support.

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