To hurt or help Hamas
May 24, 2006
No one wins
if the Palestinian Authority collapses.
AS ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert chatted with President Bush on Tuesday
during his first official visit to the United States, the Palestinian
territories he left behind were degenerating into anarchy that could lead
to civil war. That may have been the aim when the two leaders cut off
the flow of money to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas — a group
committed to the destruction of Israel and listed by the United States
as a terrorist organization — won parliamentary elections in January.
But neither Israel nor the United States is going to like the result if
the Palestinian government collapses.
Much of the Palestinian Authority's $1.9-billion annual budget is funded
by foreign aid, which the United States and the European Union are no
longer supplying. The government also relies on tax revenue collected
by Israel, amounting to about $55 million a month, which has been cut
off. As a result, the Palestinian Authority's 165,000 employees haven't
been paid in more than two months.
The deprivation, combined with an intense political rivalry between the
Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah party led by President Mahmoud Abbas,
have sent armed militants into the streets and sparked high-level assassination
attempts and open gun battles between the factions.
As with everything involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there's
no easy way to defuse the crisis gripping the Palestinian Authority. Western
governments are correct in withholding aid from Hamas, which must be compelled
to renounce terrorism and accept Israel's right to exist. At the same
time, the loss of outside assistance is causing enormous hardship and
further destabilizing an already shaky government.
Terrorism thrives amid anarchy; the collapse of the government would undo
years of effort to prepare the Palestinians to manage a state of their
own and probably would only strengthen Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Finding the right way to provide humanitarian aid while not supporting
Hamas is a tricky challenge, though the European Union is on the right
track. On Tuesday, government ministers endorsed an aid package that would
funnel money to U.N. aid agencies and the International Red Cross. That's
far preferable to the approach being taken by Congress. The House approved
a measure Tuesday that would cut most U.S. aid to nongovernmental organizations
working in the Palestinian territories and deny visas to members of the
Palestinian Authority. This ham-handed attempt to appear tough on terror,
opposed by the Bush administration, would cause needless suffering to
the innocent and goes too far in micromanaging U.S. contacts with the
Olmert's main goal during his visit to Washington was to persuade Bush
to sign on to his plan to withdraw from most West Bank settlements while
keeping the larger outposts intact so they eventually would be included
within Israel's borders — something Olmert wants to do without the
Palestinians' approval. Bush praised the notion in principle but implied
that Israel really should come to a negotiated solution.
Bush was right not to give a full endorsement; it's far too soon to consider
such unilateral action, which would inflame the Arab world.
If the Palestinian government can be kept from falling apart, it may yet
produce a more responsible negotiating partner.
2006 Los Angeles Times