March 8, 2006
How much money should the U.S., Israel and the European Union give to terrorists like Hamas?
Dear Friend of FLAME:
The issue of whether to continue giving money to the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) after the electoral victory of Hamas seems simple on the surface: If Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, if they refuse to abandon terrorism, if they disavow the "road map," they shouldn't get any more money. On the other hand, there are those who argue that there is aid . . . and there is aid. Most of the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that came from the U.S. and the European Union (as well as tariffs collected by Israel for the P.A.) was essentially wasted---going to support terrorists, corrupt officials, or do-nothing Palestinian bureaucrats and police. Indeed, the Palestinian economy was functionally bankrupt before Hamas was elected, and now the already poor Palestinian people face increasing poverty. Should all U.S., European and Israeli aid now be withheld from the Palestinians? How can we justify funding terrorists . . . but how can we justify starving millions of "innocent" Palestinian civilians? While Hamas can surely be trusted to use discretionary funds to wage a terrorist war on Israel, the group also has a history of honest governance and social good works. Thus some have argued that the international community should continue to provide humanitarian (and only humanitarian) aid to the P.A. Others have taken a hard line, asserting that Hamas (and those who voted for them) must be brought to heel. Ultimately, that's the position taken by Hillel Frisch in his article below. Frisch, a senior researcher in the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, and the author of books and articles on Palestinian and Arab politics, argues that stopping international aid will have a sobering effect on the Palestinian body politic and that making the Palestinians reap what they have sown is the most humanitarian act of all. I think you'll find his analysis edifying.
Throttle a Hamas Government Financially
Finally there is an issue all Israelis, left and right, and the principal western states can rally around: to throttle a Hamas government financially until it acknowledges Israel's right to live as a Jewish state, disavows in an official document the use of violence in settling the Israeli-Palestinian and Israel-Arab conflicts, and dismantles its military arm.
Not only is there an imperative to do so, but such a policy must be applied immediately. Hamas and other factions are developing the capabilities of hitting at major strategic objectives in and around Ashkelon, thereby increasing the prospects of a mega-catastrophe. Israel's reaction will be massive, resulting in complete disintegration of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian political and social anarchy. In such circumstances, any possibility of negotiations will be delayed for years, and Palestinian hardship will finally reach levels Palestinian propagandists attribute erringly to the present situation.
Why tough love works
A hard-line policy will not only avert disaster but potentially create the seeds for peace. Hamas is a pragmatic organization that recognizes power for what it is, behaving rationally rather than being dominated by sentiment and affect. It knows that the world is dominated by a superpower, and therefore refrains from allying with al-Qaeda and from engaging in international terrorism, and takes pains not to harm American and western citizens locally even though it would love to do all three. Intensive Israeli and international pressure could possibly draw from the organization the more critical concessions outlined above.
Given a choice between promise and pitfall, even the most ardent dove should be aware of the critical importance of adopting a hard-line policy.
Being hard in order to be soft is of course difficult and counter-intuitive. So difficult has the task been that incumbent Israeli policy-makers have already raised three reservations to throttling the PA after the Hamas victory. Some have warned that President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his security apparatuses will fall, others have claimed that the axis of evil, Iran and al-Qaeda, will fill in the financial void, and still others point to the moral difficulty of stopping humanitarian aid.
None of these claims are justifiable in stopping aid to the PA.
Why aid should be stopped now
Abbas, many of us assumed, was a consummate player who had cleverly weakened his own side and strengthened the opposition in order to play off the two sides. The elections proved how unsuccessful he was in applying the strategy. With each succeeding day Abbas is proving to be the Palestinian Gorbachev, a spokesperson for the factions justifying the terror they engage in rather than leading the PA and his people, as his title of president should suggest. And with his fall, the Fateh faction and militia(s) he so ill-served seem to be beyond repair. "You can't kick a dead horse" should be our response.
As for the specter of Iranian aid, there is no reason that the security services of Jordan, Egypt and Israel cannot prevent the flow of a hundred million dollars a month--a very sizeable and traceable amount--to the small Palestinian economy. More important, they should have all the interest in the world to do so. Tracking down the couriers is even simpler. Past Iranian involvement in Palestinian terror, substantial but nevertheless limited, serves as ample proof of the difficulties of transferring funds of such magnitude.
Even stopping some of the discretionary international aid will have a significant impact. This aid is equivalent to one-third of the Palestinian GDP and probably half of total economic activity, due to the multiplier effects such inflows have on the Palestinian economy.
Do the Palestinians need and deserve financial aid?
How such a contraction in the Palestinian economy will affect Hamas was already tested in 1996, when Israel for the first time prevented Palestinian labor for prolonged periods of time from reaching the Israeli labor market. Withdrawing that carrot led to tremendous pressure on Hamas to desist from acts of terrorism. Such a policy should be all the more effective as Hamas now bears responsibility for the welfare of all Palestinian society.
As for the international aid argument, these donations are not a birthright, and most international aid is political rather than humanitarian. The Palestinians are the second largest recipients of international aid in the world. Were aid strictly humanitarian and based on objective criteria of need they would hardly deserve any. Even after five years of violence, the PA ranks 102 in the United Nations' Human Development Index out of 189 states on the list, hardly a position at the bottom of the heap. Nearly half of humanity, including citizens of Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Morocco are worse off. If the Palestinians want international aid they should be made to live up to international accountability by disavowing terrorism and recognizing a member state in the UN.
Ironically, it is cutting off international aid to the PA under Hamas that is humanitarian, given the possible catastrophic effects that continued terrorism directed against Israel may visit on the Palestinians. - Published 27/2/2006 © bitterlemons.org