(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh informed his colleagues during the first meeting of the new Hamas cabinet on Wednesday that he had discovered that the PA's treasury is empty. This state of affairs, he added, was only worsened by the debts rung up by the previous regime.
This "discovery" should hardly have come as a surprise to the new PA government. Both the US and Canada have already cut off financial assistance to the PA, and only Israel's final transfer of tax funds along with the EU's continued largesse have helped the PA make ends meet over the two months since Hamas was voted into power.
The consequences of Hamas's financial predicament are serious. Haniyeh was unsure his government, the largest employer in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would be able to pay the March salaries of its 140,000 employees.
Despite the ample warning signs that the PA's accounts would not be in the black, the only potential solution Haniyeh offered when he officially became responsible for leading his people out of this sorry situation was to suggest that some Arab countries might provide a financial bailout.
Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, Hamas has yet to do what it must for the sake of the very people who voted it into power: adopt policies which would end the pariah status to which its ascent to power has consigned the PA in the eyes of much of the international community. Such policies include renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist and honoring existing agreements between Israel and the PA. If it ended its fixation on "resistance" - both to Israel's existence and, therefore, its own evolution into a responsible government that can competently serve its people - the likely result would be an immediate influx of funds from patron governments around the world.
Hamas, however, is sticking to its guns.
Its strategy doubtless derives from the expectation that, as the poverty and suffering of Palestinians mount, the watching world will pin the blame on Israel and the West will ultimately ride in, a cash-carrying cavalry, to effect another fiscal rescue.
With genuine concern for the well-being of ordinary Palestinians, the only way forward is for the West to hold firm, and not capitulate to Hamas's literally and figuratively bankrupt policies. Financial rescue for an unreformed Hamas-led PA would facilitate the flourishing of a murderous regime which is unabashedly committed to the destruction of a sovereign state and is relentlessly educating its people to that end. It would also condemn the Palestinian people themselves to continued manipulation as financial hostages in the hands of their government.
Given that both the US and Canada have already firmly committed to withholding aid until, or unless, Hamas revises its stand, it falls primarily to the European Union to evince a similar strength of conviction.
Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, gave encouraging indications on Wednesday that Europe recognizes Hamas's wayward course, affirming that Hamas's policies must "inevitably have consequences for the EU: the impossibility of regarding Hamas as a valid partner until it changes its stance." But he also said that the EU would continue aiding the Palestinians "because this is a moral imperative which the EU cannot shirk."
The greater moral imperative is to maintain the pressure on Hamas. This is true because Hamas is bent on the elimination of Israel and, in its single-minded pursuit of this goal, seems willing to sacrifice the very sustenance of its people. It is also true because Hamas has yet to even hint at any fiscal program which envisages an independent Palestinian economy, one which can operate beyond the existing "beggar economics."
Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based Hamas leader, recently put it this way: "We do not promise our people to turn Gaza into Hong Kong or Taiwan, but we promise them a dignified and proud life behind the resistance in defense of their honor, their land and their pride."
How bleak and barren a horizon.
Assuredly, as the circumstances of the Palestinians deteriorate due to lack of funds, Hamas will urge its people to find strength in their suffering; that such is their destiny and that there is glory in their collective status as economic martyrs.
It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it is precisely to avoid condemning large numbers of Palestinians to such a fate in perpetuity that the international community must stay the course and continue to isolate Hamas until it changes its ways, or until the people who elected it as their government realize that it offers them no future.