In his zeal to punish Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for assorted
affronts real and imagined, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may be Hamas’s
most important benefactor.
The Islamic terror organization has many
friends – Iran, Syria, Hezbollah – but none is doing as much to expand its power
and popularity from the Gaza Strip to all of the West Bank as the Netanyahu
It finally dawned on Netanyahu that he might be making a
mistake – to say nothing of violating signed agreements – by withholding upwards
of $100 million in funds that actually belong to the Palestinian Authority and
are needed to pay salaries for government officials and security forces. It was
yet another move that seemed almost designed to weaken Abbas and strengthen his
Finding himself under pressure from all sides, the prime
minister has hinted he might release the funds. Immediately his ultranationalist
foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, denounced the move as “irresponsible” and
declared his “adamant” opposition. But he backed away from an earlier threat to
bring down the government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have been pressing Netanyahu to adhere to Israel’s
commitments and release the funds.
The most persuasive opposition to the
freeze comes from Israel’s security establishment.
It maintains that a
fully functioning PA is in Israel’s interest. It doesn’t want to see the PA
collapse or give Abbas an excuse to carry out his on-and-off threats to shut it
Look for Netanyahu to try to save face by declaring victory,
claiming that Abbas has “calmed down” in the wake of failed “unilateral moves”
at the UN, pulled back applications to join other UN agencies and failed in his
latest effort to reconcile with Hamas.
The mercurial Abbas doesn’t help
matters himself with his repeated threats of resignation, dismantlement and
reconciliation plus his refusal to talk peace with Israel until his conditions
THE BIGGEST danger facing both Netanyahu and Abbas is that they
may get carried away with their own politically motivated rhetoric and step off
the proverbial cliff. When Abbas raised the specter of dismantling the PA at a
Fatah Revolutionary Council meeting last month, Council members responded by
forming a study committee. They knew he was bluffing and they understood the
risks of going through with it, according to diplomatic and media
A decision to shut down the PA could prove disastrous for
Palestinian aspirations for statehood because it could easily be interpreted by
many as an admission they are not ready to govern themselves.
“It’s not a
realistic threat,” said Robert Danin, the former head of Tony Blair’s Jerusalem
Quartet mission. “The PA won’t dissolve itself because Palestinian leaders don’t
want to deprive themselves of the tax revenues that the PA generates and they
have too strong a vested interest in preserving power.”
For Israel, the
PA eases the burden of occupation. Without it Israel would have to assume all
the aspects of occupation as it did prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords, including a
return of the civil administration that was responsible for everything from
garbage collection to administering municipal governments.
doesn’t want to send its solders back to patrolling the mean streets of the West
Bank like cops on the beat. But most important, it is pleased with the job PA
security forces are doing in enforcing public safety and especially in
preventing terror attacks from the West Bank.
If the PA cannot pay
salaries of its employees and security forces, it will lose its standing in the
eyes of the people. The would only benefit Hamas.
“It is inexplicable why
Israel is hurting [Palestinian Prime Minister] Salaam Fayyad more than anyone,”
Danin said. “He’s the one person who has brought fiscal responsibility and
transformed the security forces from two dozen undisciplined rival groups to a
unified professional force answerable to civilian rule.
this guy by withholding Palestinians’ own funds that Israel is not entitled to?
It doesn’t serve Israel’s or the PA’s interest; the only beneficiaries are those
who want the PA to fail,” he said.
Abbas and Netanyahu don’t trust each
other, and the Palestinian leader has lost the confidence of US President Barack
Obama as a result of his refusal to engage in unconditional direct talks. Israel
is unhappy with Abbas’ demands for a total settlement freeze and acceptance of
the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations.
further strained by the PA’s efforts to challenge Israel in international
forums, by seeking unilateral recognition by the UN and by getting membership in
“Clearly Israel has a desire to exert leverage over the PA,” said
Danin, a former senior State Department and National Security Council Middle
East specialist. “But freezing funds only creates an unnecessary
Netanyahu’s anger and frustration with Abbas not only led to
the freeze but also contributed to the decision to boost Hamas’ popularity by
releasing 1,027 of its followers in exchange for a single Israeli soldier. One
unintended consequence of the prime minister’s action could well be a Hamas
victory in next year’s elections.
It’s not out of the question that would
not disappoint Netanyahu because it would give him the excuse he thinks he needs
to avoid negotiations.
The Netanyahu government’s reactive approach has
failed to meet the challenges posed by the PA’s diplomatic offensive by
producing creative and daring initiatives of its own.
“The whole history
of Israel has been one of taking the initiative, not playing defense, and that
is what makes the current situation so hard to understand,” Danin
said.The writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and
consultant. He writes regularly for Anglo-Jewish newspapers and is the former
legislative director of AIPAC and Washington representative of the World Jewish