Last week's decision of the European Union to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and ban all contacts with the Hamas government, is condemned not only by the Palestinians themselves, but by several people and organizations in the EU. In the Netherlands, an authoritative advisory organ of the government criticized this decision and called for dialogue with Hamas
'The west wants democracy in the Middle East, so it has to accept the outcome', is an argument used by many people, and: 'one has to negotiate and make peace with the enemy, not with friends'. Moreover, withholding aid to the Palestinians will lead to a humanitarian disaster and will drive the Palestinians into the hands of Syria and Iran, who both have promised help to the Palestinians recently. Also, Hamas will be better able to abide by agreements than Fatah because it controls the terrorist factions and is better organized than the corrupt Fatah that the Palestinians voted out of office. Just as Sharon could remove settlers better than Labour, Hamas can halt violence better than Fatah, so goes the argument.
Hamas has said more than once that it is willing to offer a long term truce in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. It has abided mostly to an informal truce since January 2005 and most terrorist attacks last year came from the Islamic Jihad and from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is affiliated with Abbas' Fatah organization.
So why punish Hamas and make the Palestinians pay for their democratic decision? Why not punish Israel for refusing to negotiate and offer meaningful concessions? Why not give Hamas a bit more time to transform itself into a responsible political party?
In the first place, the EU decision doesn't mean that no money will go to the Palestinians anymore. EU diplomats are investigating ways to pay salaries to Palestinian Authority civil servants by circumventing the Hamas government. Also, the UNRWA and other non governmental organizations will get money as before.
The democracy argument is difficult, as the same argument can be used to support all kinds of extremist parties. The fact that a party is elected doesn't mean that it is democratic and that it is good to cooperate with it. The classic example, of course, is the more or less democratic way the Nazi party came to power in Germany. The appeasement policy of the European countries turned out to be disastrous. Hamas is no NSDAP and Palestine is no Germany, but it proves that the 'democracy' argument is shaky. The fact that the West pushed for elections in the Palestinian territories doesn't mean that it has to cooperate with whatever party won the elections. If in Israel the extremist Yisrael Beiteinu party had won the elections and would be the largest party in a new government, does that mean that European countries would have to maintain all their diplomatic ties with Israel? I don't think so. Austria was also punished by the other EU countries as the right extremist FPO came to power there. Aid to Israel and trade agreements have been made conditional on Israeli policies in the past. Israel was pressed to give up all of the Sinai for peace with Egypt, to make far reaching concessions at Camp David in 2000 and accept Clinton's Bridging Proposals, to change the route of the wall/fence, to not kill Arafat, to not respond to the dozens of Scud missiles that Iraq fired on Israel during the first Gulf War, just to mention a few examples. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority was created during the Oslo peace process as an interim body to make peace with Israel. According to the Oslo agreement, no parties were allowed to run in the Palestinian elections that oppose the peace process and advocate violence or racism.
The notion that supporting an extremist party will help the moderates and thus peace, is a strange idea. Supporting and cooperating with Hamas will strengthen Hamas in the first place. Why would an extremist party moderate its stance if it gets aid without changing anything? On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect that Hamas will change overnight from a guerilla and social movement with a Jihadist ideology to a moderate democratic party. The contradictory statements of Hamas leaders since it is in charge, where uncompromising and bellicose stances are alternated with more compromising statements, and even the acceptance of a two-state solution, might be due to pressure from outside and the sentiment not to surrender to that same pressure.
It is naÔve to believe that Hamas is be a peace loving party just because some officials say it is so. If Hamas is really changing, they have to show this in deeds as much as in words, and for example change their extremist charter
, that calls for Jihad until all of Palestine is liberated and voices classic anti-Semitic notions like holding the Jews responsible for World War I and II, the French revolution and the creation of the UN, all with the aim to dominate the world. It calls all negotiations a waste of time.
With its defense of the suicide attack in Tel Aviv earlier this week Hamas has shown that it didn't change a lot. Although the attack was carried out by the Islamic Jihad, Israel holds Hamas responsible as the PA government has the responsibility to at least try to prevent such attacks. A government cannot allow private militias to carry out attacks as they please. Hamas' endorsement of the attack on the contrary might motivate the terrorists to go on and carry out more attacks, and it is to be expected that police or security service under Hamas control will collaborate with rather than act against terrorists.
The most important question however, is what is the best thing to do to promote peace and prevent a humanitarian disaster for the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza strip. Of course the Palestinians there need humanitarian aid, and they don't care that much if they get their money or food from the PA or UNRWA or some other organization. When Fatah was in power, it spent money to fill its own pockets or those of Arafat's wife in Paris. Hamas spends a lot of money on their social services like hospitals and schools and helps the needy. That is one of the reasons why they are more trustworthy than Fatah in the eyes of many Palestinians and also in the eyes of some people abroad. These people however seldom question what children learn in these schools and how that relates to peace and coexistence.
Aid to the PA should be made conditional not only to Hamas officially recognizing Israel and denouncing violence, but even more on what they say and teach in (PA controlled) media and in schools. Europe doesn't need to finance schools where children are taught that it is an Islamic duty to become a martyr, and that the Jews are an evil people.
The West isn't obliged to support whatever party is in power in the Palestinian territories. It has a duty however to give aid and prevent a humanitarian disaster, and it feels the need to promote a peaceful solution to the conflict, both out of self-interest and as a genuine wish for peace. Supporting the government is not always the best way to support a people, and we should not confuse these things. How to work around a government effectively is yet another question.Ratna Pelle
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Replies: 4 Comments
Hi, thanks for your comments and some reactions.
I think about half of the Palestinians in the Gazastrip are without a job and live below the poverty line. In the Westbank it is a little better. Salaries for civil servants are not paid. That is not Israels fault in the first place (although the harsh security measures certainly contribute to it), but it is very bad for these people themselves and also for Israel. It is not in Israel's interest if Palestinians have nothing to eat.
I agree that the aid to the PA should be conditional on stopping the violence. I also think it should be better controlled that the money is not used for terrorism or incitement.
Wendy, I wish I knew the answer to your question. UNRWA has a lot of Hamas people on their pay-roll, as they admitted themselves last year, and very probably in many UNRWA schools Palestinians don't learn about the need for peaceful co-existence exactly. Almost all UNRWA employees are Palestinians, mostly refugees and these are not very moderate people mostly. That doesn't mean that they don't do any good things, and they are necessary in providing humanitarian aid to the refugees. That is why also Israel gives them money.
Ratna Pelle, Thursday, April 27th
Wendy, the palestinians CHOSE hamas, hamas didn't impose themselves on the palestinians, unlike the North Koreans. Why shouldn't the palestinians be punished for making such a choice? We are not obliged to support them financially, let them develop their own economy.
Laura, Saturday, April 22nd
You write "The most important question however, is what is the best thing to do to promote peace and prevent a humanitarian disaster for the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza strip." I question whether in fact there is a humanitarian disaster on the horizon and refer you to http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=927 and to http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=926
You say the West "has a duty however to give aid and prevent a humanitarian disaster" Why so? Why more so then any other place in the world particulary where those suffering are blameless. Here the Palestinians got the government they voted for. Democracy demands that those voting accept the consequences of their vote.
Furthermore you say such aid to the PA should be conditional on Hamas "denouncing violence". This is not enough. They have to end the violence. Words are not good enough as you have elsewhere pointed out.
"Promoting peace" is also a euphemism for not fighting. I suggest that this is self defeating. What has the "peace process" accomplished for the last fifteen years. Who can say we are closer to peace as a result.
What is your definition of "innocent Palestinians". In a democracy are we not responsible for the acts of our duly elected government.
Ted Belman, Saturday, April 22nd
I agree with most of this essay, as usual. It's sad and a little scary to me to see people say, "Well, Hamas didn't get a majority, but it won the election, so we must deal with them, fund them, etc. or they will swing into the arms of Iran." They are already in the arms of Iran--Iran supplied arms to Arafat, for Pete's sake.
What this article doesn't mention is how decent people and decent governments can support innocent Palestinians. Is UNRWA helping them, or working with Hamas? Are there other NGOS that are worth supporting? I wish I had something concrete. In no area of the world, except perhaps North Korea, do we leave people to starve because of their violent, hateful government.
Thanks for any specifics. Palestinian-Americans would like to know, too. Best, Wendy
Wendy Leibowitz, Saturday, April 22nd
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