When aid hurts

Moderate Palestinian leaders have been too successful in wooing Western assistance.

rice abbas 224.88 (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli [file])
rice abbas 224.88
(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli [file])
In Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Salaam Fayad in his "private capacity," the State Department said. Does this mean they spent the time looking at family photos? Officially, the US will have nothing to do with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government, yet the US, with Israeli support, is providing some $59 million in nonlethal assistance to PA security forces that ostensibly are controlled by Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The US also contributed substantially to the $1.2 billion in international assistance that flowed to the Palestinians in the year following Hamas's ascent to power. This represents an increase over the previous year and makes the Palestinians the highest per capita aid recipients in the world. Even this level of assistance, evidently, is not enough. In Europe last week, Fayad asked for "external support to bridge a gap of nearly €1b. [$1.34b.] for 2007." If the West does not accede, he said, "the consequences are far too grave, quite frankly." Even Fayad, however, who is by all accounts personable and urbane, had to admit, "We do have to begin trying to help ourselves and do not want to assume the role of international beggar." Presumably, this is the self-help message that the international community is trying to send with its quasi-boycott of the Palestinian government. But is this message getting across? On April 7, Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal denied that there had been any change in his organization's policies, and declared that Hamas would neither abandon "armed resistance" nor agree to give up an "inch of Palestinian land." The Palestinian message, then, is this: We need record levels of aid to avert a humanitarian crisis, but we are unwilling to abandon our commitments either to the means of terrorism or to the goal of Israel's complete destruction. The fact that the people asking for the money, Fayad and Abbas, may personally disagree with this position does not change the nature of the government they represent. Indeed, the problem with the more moderate Palestinian leaders is that they have been too successful in wooing Western assistance. If aid to the Palestinians had not been increasing since Hamas came to power, perhaps these moderate leaders would have had a much stronger case that Hamas must radically change its positions. Now, however, Hamas can point to its victory at the Mecca talks and the fraying of the international boycott as evidence that there is no reason for it to moderate. Extremism has paid off, and it will continue to do so, literally. The alternative is not to cut Palestinian project aid entirely or immediately. Yet there must be a much clearer link between what Palestinians need to do, in Fayad's words, to "help ourselves," and international assistance. Both Hamas and Fatah need to learn that the US and Europe will not continue to pour money into a dysfunctional economy suffering under from warring "security services" and rampant corruption, not to mention the burden imposed by Israeli security measures necessitated by the constant terrorist activity. On Tuesday, four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, were wounded by terrorists who shot at their car as they were driving close to Modi'in. The incident could have ended very differently. Hamas's positions are not an academic matter; Hamas is preparing for war. Under these circumstances, refusing to directly aid the PA is not enough. Nor is trying to prop up Fatah as a counterweight, when Fatah's leadership cannot stop the terrorists in its own political sphere, let alone rein in Hamas. The international community should drastically reduce its massive financial assistance until Hamas stops fomenting terrorism, preparing for war and neglecting the need for a functioning government and economy. If these things are not done, no amount of aid will improve the Palestinian situation. To avoid the "far too grave" situation of which Fayad warns, the international community should politely do the opposite of what he advocates, and tighten the link between international aid and Palestinian movement toward proper governance and peace.