The Region: Why bail Hamas out?

The EU plan would show Islamists that they can reject moderation and not face any real Western pressure.

barry rubin column 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin column 88
(photo credit: )
Something about the Middle East makes people dopey. The latest example of this phenomenon is the plan, apparently endorsed by EU countries, to pay Palestinian Authority employees out of their own taxpayers' money. This is worth discussing as a terrific symbol of the far less than half-baked notions that so often persuade leaders, intellectuals and journalists when dealing with the Middle East, and especially regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
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At a meeting of the Quartet - the United States, UN, EU and Russia - there was agreement in principle to pay PA employees from a trust fund, with EU states developing the details. Let's examine the idea to show both how such major policy initiatives are so wildly illogical, and why this kind of thing happens in the first place. Obviously, I am not talking about such genuinely humanitarian aid as that for health and sanitation, which should be continued under any circumstances. There is a simple alternative: Aid could directly pay salaries of non-regime personnel such as medical workers; for the purchase of needed items like milk or hospital equipment; for financing specific projects, and for helping genuine (not propaganda agency) non-governmental organizations. This constitutes humanitarian aid, which is not the same thing as a subsidy for a radical, terrorist-sponsoring government. And Hamas would gain no popular credit or increased support from such a strategy. BUT THE proposal most being talked about is some version of having Western governments pay 160,000 people over whom it has no control or any way of firing. For example, the Hamas regime has announced a new armed force of about 3,000 of its supporters to counter the Fatah-dominated security services. Presumably, American and European taxpayers would have to pay these Hamas militants as well. Probably, also, they would have no control over the wage levels determined by the PA, which the EU last year held to be too high. Moreover, the donors would have to pay a list of employees including hundreds of non-existent workers, whose salaries are pocketed by PA officials. Among the real civil servants taking regular salaries from Western donations would be teachers, officials and clerics who tell their students how Israel and the West are demonic; who incite or even facilitate terrorism; and who advocate genocide. Of course, many of those whose life styles would be supported by Western taxpayers are themselves active terrorists, either for Fatah or Hamas. Among those whose salaries would be paid is Jamal Abu Samhadana, director-general of the Interior Ministry in charge of Palestinian security forces, who is also directly responsible for the murder of three Americans as well as ongoing terrorist attacks on Israel. As reported, the plan has no conditionality. In other words, no matter what these employees do, no matter how badly they perform, no matter what Hamas says, they still get their paychecks. Direct involvement in a terrorist attack would not make someone lose his Western-financed salary. TRUE, THE PLAN might be renewed every few months. But now that the Quartet has made it clear that it is desperate to ensure the Palestinians' welfare - even if their own leaders put personal greed and extremist ambition as a higher priority - are they going to stop doing so? Of course, with the West putting up the money, Hamas will be well off. Even if pay is given directly to employees, Hamas can claim that its reign is working well and benefit from the higher level of popular satisfaction. The European plan would ensure that continued extremism is cost-free. It would also show radical Islamists in Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere that they can take power, reject moderation, and still not face any real Western pressure. Vladimir Lenin, the communist revolutionary and dictator, liked to say the bourgeoisie was so dumb that it would sell the rope to hang itself with. Yet even he did not expect that those he intended to destroy would pay for the rope themselves. The fact that grown adults, much less national political leaders, could espouse such a plan is incredible. Why do such absurdities happen? On the surface, this kind of thing is supposedly motivated by humanitarianism and a desire to promote stability. On the first point, similar sentiments do not seem to affect these people's judgment regarding any other part of the world. There are easily 80 developing states that receive virtually no aid and whose people are arguably worse off than the Palestinians. The latter have been given more money per capita than any other group in history. Why not give aid instead to poor, peaceful, relatively honest Third World regimes trying to promote real development? There is also no reason to believe that covering the PA payroll will produce any development or broader benefits. It is one thing to subsidize another society if the recipients do something to warrant support. But the PA got money only because it agreed to make peace and stop terrorism. Since the PA broke that agreement and the new regime has openly rejected it, this leaves zero reason to give it aid. As for fear that the PA is going to collapse, the PA has been collapsing since its inception. The reason it has been in such bad shape is because of the bureaucrats and gunmen - both Fatah and Hamas - who continue to breed anarchy because they put violence ahead of helping their own people. If this PA "collapses," how is that worse than what exists now? THE REAL underlying motive for wanting to become paymaster of the PA is the belief that doing things for Palestinians will curry favor with Arabs and Muslims. But Arabs and Muslims themselves don't feel a need to do things for the Palestinians except to blame their plight on the West. Despite lots of rhetoric, they don't give the Hamas regime much money. In fact, Arab regimes desperately hope that Hamas will fail because otherwise they will face far more serious radical Islamist challenges at home by those whose success Hamas inspires toward greater demands and activities. What is striking about all this is that the supposed list of benefits from backing intransigent Palestinian leaders simply does not make sense. Will such behavior ward off terrorist attacks? (Al-Qaida doesn't care how pro-Palestinian Europeans pretend to be.) Ensure the flow of oil? (The sellers just want the money.) More investment opportunities? (Arab regimes and companies prefer doing business with America since its power and technology are more important to them than its policies.) Appease Muslim immigrants? (But France is the only country that has suffered major riots from this sector.) On examination, all of these arguments fall apart. The problems the Hamas regime is facing show that pressure is having an effect, and that such sanctions are the only hope for changing either the regime or its policies. Pressure and force are a key part of international affairs. If you don't like force, you had better like pressure. The idea that the West should subsidize, directly or indirectly, a radical Islamist, innately anti-American, anti-Semitic and genocidal-oriented Hamas regime is crazy. Why should anyone - much less any country - take such a notion seriously? The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.