Analysis: PA aid no guarantee for boosting moderates

By depriving his people of financial aid, Arafat drove many of them into the open arms of Hamas.

Hamas Arafat 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas Arafat 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
Since its establishment in 1994, the Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars in international aid. The money was supposed to help the Palestinians build a strong economy and government institutions. The assumption back then was that economic prosperity would weaken radicals and boost the moderates among the Palestinians. But hundreds of millions of dollars went into secret bank accounts or to build big villas for senior PA officials. Yasser Arafat also used the money to buy loyalty, recruiting as many people as possible as civil and security servants. By depriving his people of the financial aid, Arafat drove many of them into the open arms of Hamas and other radical groups. Many Palestinians became disillusioned with the "peace process" because they never benefited from the fruits of peace. The international community that was pouring money on the PA did not seem to care about the stories of financial corruption and embezzlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nor did the donors pay attention to the fact that Arafat was inciting his people not only against Israel, but also against the same "infidels" who were signing his checks. When the second intifada erupted in September 2000, it was also because many Palestinians had nothing to lose. Instead of establishing industrial zones to provide jobs for many unemployed Palestinians, Arafat established a casino and bought luxury vehicles for his loyalists. Instead of building housing projects for the needy, Arafat gave his wife a monthly allowance of $100,000 to support her shopping sprees in Paris. To cover up for the rampant corruption and mismanagement in the PA, Arafat unleashed a wave of incitement against Israel and the West, especially in the media and mosques. This is the Arab dictators' way of diverting attention from the real problems at home - by keeping their peoples busy hating the West and Israel. It's estimated that Arafat's PA had received nearly $6.5b. in international aid. A former Arafat aide once admitted that had most of the money been invested for the welfare of the Palestinians, it's most likely they would not have resorted to violence in September 2000 or voted for Hamas six years later. Plans to reform the PA have been surfacing since Salaam Fayad was first appointed as finance minister in June 2002. But most of these plans have never been fully implemented due to personal rivalries and power struggles between political figures and groups inside the PA. Arafat did his utmost to thwart Fayad's efforts because he did not want him to consolidate his power and emerge as a strong and credible leader. Many top Fatah officials also worked toward foiling Fayad's plans during his term in office as finance minister between 2002 and 2005. Earlier this year, Fayad was reappointed finance minister in the joint Hamas-Fatah "unity" cabinet, but was also unable to bring about real changes because of the fighting between the two parties. Now Fayad has a new-old plan to reform the PA. Like previous plans, this one has also been hailed as an "ambitious" one. But the challenges facing Fayad are not different from those that scuttled his previous endeavors. Fayad wants, for example, to fire thousands of civil and security servants - a move that has already drawn sharp criticism from Fatah operatives. Moreover, Fayad is still surrounded by many of those who in the past hindered his previous reform schemes under the pretext that he's implementing the agenda of the Americans and Israelis. These are the same figures that fear that Fayad's success may undermine their status and improve his prospects of rising to power. While the billions of dollars promised at the Paris conference on Monday are likely to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians and strengthen their economy, there is no guarantee that the financial aid would have a moderating effect on many of them. This money is mainly designed to keep Fatah in power and prevent Hamas from taking over the West Bank. And unless the PA changes its rhetoric and starts promoting real peace and coexistence with Israel, the millions of dollars are not going to create a new generation of moderate Palestinians. Israel's security measures, including movement restrictions and closures, are also not helping to boost the standing of the moderate camp. The only way to undermine Hamas is not by channeling billions of dollars to the PA leadership, but by offering the Palestinians a better alternative to the Islamist movement. In order for Fatah to regain the confidence of the Palestinian public, it needs to reform itself and pave the way for new faces. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who participated in the Hamas anniversary rally over the weekend should have sounded an alarm bell in Paris and Ramallah, namely that the Islamist movement continues to enjoy massive support despite economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip.