The developing international consensus to offer Gaza an economic package in order to convince Hamas to agree to a cease-fire is immoral and a strategic folly. It is also unlikely to be effective.
One of the main reasons for Hamas harassing several million Israelis by launching thousands of rockets and sending terrorists into Israel, apart from the desire to kill Jews, was to rock the boat in order to get out of its dire economic straits. Getting paid for stopping its shooting at Israeli civilians looks like the “protection money” collected by the mafia.
The morality of pouring money so that Gazans can live better is questionable as long as Hamas does not stop its terrorism against Israel. Unfortunately, establishing a clear connection between economic aid and political compliance is not on the agenda of the “peacemakers.”
It is true that Gazans are suffering. Nevertheless, it is wrong to argue that the Gazans should not suffer the consequences of Hamas actions. Hamas was popular among the Gazans and continues to be so. Moreover, polls show support among Gazans for violence against Israelis. What moral justification exists for helping people that support an organization engaged in killing Israeli citizens and intent on destroying the Jewish state? Moreover, we should remember that the essence of war is a competition of inflicting pain in order to change patterns of behavior. Actually, pain may have a positive value in affecting the learning curve of the warring sides. Exacting a high cost from Hamas and the Gazans may lead them to more peaceful behavior. For example, it took a lot of suffering in World War I and World War II to transform German society into a less militaristic and less belligerent one. While not politically correct, such treatment might be the recipe for turning the Palestinians into peaceful neighbors in the long run.
Moreover, economic aid to Gaza, as long as Hamas stays in control, strengthens its power and its grip over the poor Gazans. Allowing continued rule of Hamas, as the US plans, also undermines the rule of the more moderate Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Indeed the PA criticized the Kerry cease-fire proposal that favored Hamas.
Yet, this clear strategic rationale seems to be taken over by sentimentalist responses to Hamas media manipulation. Instead of using the tough pictures coming out of Gaza to tell Gazans: “We told you all along that Hamas leadership would only make things worse” (just as has happened in other places where radical Islamists gain power), Western leaders seem to have foolishly decided that Gaza should speedily be rebuilt! The US efforts to bribe Hamas into behaving (while suspending aid to Egypt) are probably against American laws dealing with terrorist organizations.
Promises of aid send the wrong signal. They tell Palestinians that their leadership can make grave, deadly mistakes, and nevertheless gullible Westerners and others will bail them out. It also signals to Hamas that it can continue shooting at the Jewish state; for if Israel repeats its military action, merciful donor states again will repair the damage.
Diplomats are looking for formulas that will enable channeling aid to the Gaza Strip, bypassing Hamas.
Realistically, there is no way to reconstruct Gaza without strengthening Hamas. The reconstruction of Hamastan in Gaza – an Iranian base that threatens Israel and many moderate Arab regimes – makes no strategic sense.
America helped reconstruct Western Europe and Japan after World War II to make sure they would be ruled by friendly democratic regimes. Hamas is authoritarian and anti-Western. Moreover, its rule will doom the Gazans to continuous poverty and ignorance. It is simply silly to facilitate the continuation of Hamas rule.
The history of humanitarian aid shows that outside economic aid is only as good as the ability of a recipient’s economy and government to use it prudently and productively. Like many Third World countries, Gaza lacks the legal and institutional infrastructure needed for effective dispersal of economic aid. Billions of euros transferred to the PA since the Oslo Accords have been squandered and misused by corruption and ineptitude.
Very little aid filtered down to the people. Therefore, it is not at all clear that sending more money to the dysfunctional Gaza Strip will do any good.
It is clear that a large proportion of the benefits of the external aid will be siphoned off to the corrupt Hamas leadership. Khaled Mashaal and Musa Abu Marzook are reported to be billionaires, while Ismail Haniyeh is only a millionaire.
Some aid will be directed to Hamas activists, and only what is left will go to the destitute. Those with the guns always get the first and best cut of international aid sent to the suffering. This is what is happening everywhere international aid is dispensed. Gaza is not different.
Humanitarian aid should be dispensed judiciously, while making sure that it does not preserve poverty and dependence. Even the friends of the Palestinian national movement should realize that it is time for tough love for Gaza.
The author, a professor of political studies, is director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, and the Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.