Donors and reactors

If EU continues foot-dragging on Iran, aid to PA won't save peace process.

By
December 17, 2007 23:17
3 minute read.
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Call us naive, but one might think that an international conference convened to provide financial aid to the Palestinians would be organized by the Arab states, and led by their contributions. It is the Arab world, after all, that styles itself as the main champion of the Palestinian cause. In reality, yesterday's donor conference was, as usual, led by the US and Europe. Arab foreign ministers showed up, but Israeli officials expect, based on past behavior, that the Arab states will make generous pledges and then not pay most of what they pledged. Diplomats told this newspaper that Egypt, in particular, will likely pay little in order not to antagonize Hamas. If so, this explains why Egypt has strenuously avoided, despite claims to the contrary, shutting down the flow of weapons and terrorists over its border. The latest reports that the US has sent some officials to the Egypt-Gaza border to explore ways of ending smuggling, such as building a long moat, are encouraging. But Israeli officials believe that it is not the lack of barriers or troops that is allowing smuggling, but Egypt's refusal to take basic steps, such as inspecting traffic headed for the border and declaring the area a closed military zone. In other words, there is simply a lack of Egyptian will to prevent Hamas's massive weapons build-up. At the same time, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have shown interest in a possible rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah. In short, while Western countries have gathered to bolster Mahmoud Abbas and isolate Hamas, the Arab states themselves, which are obviously critical to any such effort, do not seem to be entirely with the program. And while considerable noise has ensued, with the unfortunate encouragement of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, regarding 300 new apartments to be built in Jerusalem's Har Homa neighborhood, it should be clear that even the strictest Israeli "settlement freeze" will do nothing to compensate for the much greater regional factors that undermine Palestinian moderation. The US can pretend otherwise, but everyone in the region knows that the contest between radical forces in the region - such as Hizbullah, Hamas, al-Qaida and Syria - and the entities that are under attack by them - Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority - will ultimately turn on whether the largest supporter of the radical front, Iran, gains a high degree of immunity by becoming a nuclear power. This prospect, whether it lies one, two or eight years (the outside estimate in the recent US intelligence report) down the road, is already affecting the strategic landscape of the region. If, in the future, the region will be dominated by a radical jihadi alliance, then this helps Hamas now and hurts the PA now. Most Arab states would much prefer if Iran did not become a dominant force in the region. It is telling that, though Israel has reportedly been a nuclear power for decades, this never prompted the Saudis or Egyptians to hint that they might seek nuclear weapons. Iran's nuclear bid has led to widespread predictions that Arab regimes will follow suit. However strong their preferences, the Arab states will not stick their necks out in support of Western policies that seem feckless, half-hearted and going nowhere. They will hedge their bets, as they are doing now. The deterioration of the US efforts to isolate Iran was illustrated yesterday - the same day as the donors' conference - when Russia delivered 82 tons of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr reactor. Western experts have been concerned that Russia and Iran could use Bushehr as cover for the transfer of other sensitive technology that would normally be prohibited. Scientists could also use their work at Bushehr to further Iran's nuclear weapons program. Most significantly, once running, the Bushehr reactor will produce plutonium, which is the optimum bomb-making fuel, particularly for missile-deliverable nuclear warheads. Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute has stated that if Iran were to withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty and renounce its agreements with Russia, the Bushehr reactor could ultimately produce a quarter ton of plutonium per year, enough for 30 atomic bombs. The billions of dollars in aid pledged yesterday is supposed to demonstrate support for Palestinian leaders who have pledged to institute governmental reforms, fight terrorism and negotiate peace with Israel. But if Europe continues to drag its feet in sharply curtailing its trade with Iran - which constitutes 40 percent of Iran's foreign business but only 1% of Europe's - then no amount of aid will save the Arab-Israeli peace process from drowning in an increasingly radicalized region.

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