The Palestinians aren't broke

There's plenty of money in the PA for weapons, just no money for teachers and doctors.

pals guns and kids in ga (photo credit: AP)
pals guns and kids in ga
(photo credit: AP)
If there is one thing at which the Palestinians excel, it is public relations. With their elected government ostracized by the West, their task would seem daunting. Yet despite this handicap, they have successfully diverted Western attention for months from two embarrassing questions. The first relates to money. In recent months, the media have been filled with dire reports about the growing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Authority. And at first glance, this seems logical: The West cut off aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas took power, and since Western aid comprised most of the PA's budget, a crisis would seem inevitable. Yet as recent news reports have made clear, the PA appears to have plenty of money. It has simply chosen to use its funds for purposes other than its people's welfare. For instance, Israeli intelligence has detected more than 20 tons of explosives being smuggled into Gaza this year, along with sophisticated antitank and antiaircraft missiles. Most of this weaponry goes to Hamas, the ruling terrorist organization cum party, but significant quantities also go to terrorist groups associated with Fatah, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's party. The purchase price for this materiel, including the cost of smuggling it into the Gaza, could have been used to cover the unpaid salaries of thousands of PA employees - but Hamas and Fatah would both rather buy arms than feed their people. And as long as this is true, giving either group more money would be futile. Or consider the fact, noted in an IMF report published last week, that in June, while the Hamas government was already pleading inability to pay existing PA employees, it decided to increase the PA's payroll by hiring an additional 5,400 employees, mainly security personnel - read gunmen - affiliated with Hamas. In other words, it had the money to hire 5,400 Hamas-affiliated gunmen: It was only when it came to teachers and doctors that its pockets were empty. OR CONSIDER the incredible fact that despite the boycott, the European Union - for years the PA's principal donor - has actually given more money to the Palestinians this year than it did in previous years. According to John Vinocur of the International Herald Tribune, the EU claims to have given $814 million to the Palestinians between January and October, "more than it would in a normal year." Granted, the money has not gone to the Hamas government. Some has gone to Abbas's office, some to nongovernmental organizations and some directly to PA employees, through a "Hamas bypass" mechanism set up earlier this year. But the fact remains that the EU, the PA's major donor, has increased rather than decreased its contributions - which means that if this money were being used for its intended purpose, a humanitarian crisis would seem unlikely. So is the humanitarian crisis a propaganda lie, or has this money, too, been diverted by its recipients to purposes other than the Palestinians' welfare? BUT IF the PA's finances ought to prompt hard questions from the West, this is no less true of its counterterror efforts - or rather, the lack thereof. For years, the West has maintained that Abbas, unlike Hamas, wants to fight terror, but is incapable of doing so. Yet in fact, Abbas's forces have demonstrated exceptional proficiency in handling certain types of attacks - namely, those directed at Western journalists and aid workers. Over the past year, there have been numerous kidnappings of foreigners. Just last week, for instance, a Spanish aid worker was kidnapped in Gaza; the week before, an AP photographer was kidnapped there; two weeks before that, an American aid worker was kidnapped in Nablus. In every such kidnapping, however, the victims have been released unharmed, usually within 24 hours. And in every single case, this has been due to PA intervention - usually by Abbas's office. This begs an obvious question: How is it that Abbas's security forces are so quickly able to locate and free kidnapped Westerners, but are completely incapable of dealing with any other type of terrorist activity? Even during Abbas's 14 months in sole control of the PA, from January 2005 to March 2006, his forces failed to arrest so much as a single one of the terrorists who have launched Kassam rockets into Israel from Gaza every day since disengagement. Nor were anti-Israel terrorists of any other stripe - bomb-makers, gunmen, kidnappers - ever arrested, even when Israeli intelligence gave him information on which to act. The conclusion is obvious: Abbas's forces are quite capable of taking action when he wishes them to do so, and in the case of Western journalists and aid workers, he does. He knows that these journalists and aid workers are largely responsible for generating Western sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and it is therefore important to him that they keep coming. And since this would be less likely if they risked torture or death at the hands of kidnappers, he makes sure that kidnapped Westerners are rescued quickly and unharmed. But Abbas has no interest whatsoever in fighting anti-Israel terror, because that would be unpopular with his own public: As one September poll found, 63 percent of Palestinians support bombarding Israeli cities with rockets, 57 percent support suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and 75 percent favor kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Yet neither can he openly advocate such attacks, since that could lead to the West boycotting him like it does Hamas. The obvious solution is to plead helplessness and rely on a gullible West to swallow this plea. Unfortunately, relying on Western gullibility has so far been a safe bet with regard to both money and terrorism. But if the West is serious about wanting an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it will have to stop turning a blind eye to both the PA's misuse of funds earmarked for its people's welfare and its refusal - not inability - to combat anti-Israel terror. Because if the PA can enjoy Western diplomatic and material support even without amending its behavior, it will have no incentive to change. And without change, neither the conflict nor Palestinian misery will end.