By Noah Pollak
I’ve had little time to post over the past week, as we’re in full production mode at the “journal I work for”:http://azure.org.il and my days have been busy. But I wanted to make a brief observation about the situation today in Gaza, as by my lights there are three fundamentally important premises of recent Middle East diplomacy that the lawlessness there has overturned — and quite violently, at that.
The first is the notion that power would moderate Hamas. After the terrorist group was elected in January 2006, western interpreters of “the conflict” dreamily predicted that its stridency and absolutism would attenuate; with its constituency being the entire Palestinian population, this thinking went, Hamas’ war against Israel would be necessarily curtailed by the mundane requirements of governance and incumbency. At the time, President Bush said, “I think people who generally run for office say, vote for me, I’m looking forward to fixing your potholes, or making sure you got bread on the table.” The AP’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief wrote, “if the elections pull the Islamic militants off the streets and into the corridors of power — shifting their focus from terror to governance — prospects for peace could be improved.” Not only has Hamas not moderated, it has actually become even more self-confident. Islamists, like most people, aren’t “moderated” by winning political power; they only compromise when a more powerful force, or necessity, compels them to.
The second is an idea that dates back at least to the start of Olso in the early 1990’s. It is the belief that Israel must make concessions in order to validate and strengthen the Palestinian moderates and marginalize the radicals. Another piece of conventional wisdom holds that Hamas won the 2006 election primarily due to a widespread feeling of disgust among Palestinians with Fatah’s corruption and fecklessness. Yet Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza happened just four months before the election, and the commotion surrounding that event distracted many people from taking note of what the withdrawal meant for the Palestinians themselves.
And what it meant for the Palestinians, especially the residents of Gaza, was that Hamas’ fierce resistance over the decades had finally forced an Israeli retreat. It was the Shia reaction to the 2000 Lebanon pullout all over again, with Hamas playing Hezbollah. Hamas was able to campaign proudly on this victory, which was viewed as additional evidence of Hamas’ strength and competence. And so it seems clear that a massive Israeli concession — its departure from Gaza — did not strengthen the Palestinian moderates at all, but in fact did the opposite: it vindicated the extremists, who unlike the moderates could declare a great victory and bask in the ensuing public admiration — and collect a lot more votes when election day arrived.
And finally, there is the matter of foreign aid and its relationship to democracy-promotion. The Arab states and Iran have always spoken with great high-mindedness about the plight of their brothers in Palestine, but these regimes in practice have always lustily enjoyed seeing their brothers become “permanent wards of UNRWA”:http://www.azure.org.il/magazine/magazine.asp?id=274, settle into never-ending refugee status, and stagnate in extremism and violence. Since Hamas came to power, as David Frum “helpfully notes”:http://www.aei.org/publications/filter.all,pubID.26206/pub_detail.asp, the gushers of largess that flow into the Palestinian territories have actually increased.
It is a little-known fact that international aid to the Palestinian territories has actually risen since Palestinians elected a Hamas government in January, 2006. According to International Monetary Fund and UN figures, the Palestinian areas received a total of $1.2 billion in official aid in 2006, up from $1 billion in 2005.
America’s contribution rose from $400 million in 2005 to $468 million in 2006. Aid from the European Union and other international organizations also increased handsomely, and the UN has called for still greater increases in aid in 2007.
Look at the incentives that have been created for the Palestinians: vote for terrorism, get an increase in your foreign aid. The Palestinian areas now receive more than $300 per person, per year, making them the most aid-dependent population on Earth. (The people of sub-Saharan Africa receive only $44 per person per year.)
Meanwhile Hamas’ supposed pariah status has allowed it to strike a deal with a generous fellow-pariah, Iran, which since the election has spent well over $100 million directly on the terrorist group. Iran, whose economy is rapidly falling apart, is not providing this money out of altruistic solidarity, or even as cheap symbolism, as Saddam Hussein used to do with his payments to the families of suicide bombers. Iran is “purchasing terrorism against Israel”:http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/2A62C583-E1C7-454E-B0B3-16DB56E3C4FD.htm and improving its already substantial ability to foment crises in the region, which is one of mullahs’ greatest deterrent capabilities.
Add all of this money up, and one confronts the reality that Hamas and the PA today are awash in unprecedented sums of money, absolving both Hamas and Fatah of the need to fulfill the most basic requirements of governance. This largess has so taken the pressure off Hamas that it is free to indulge almost exclusively in its greatest interest, and a major interest of its new patron, Iran — waging jihad against Israel.
The primary givers to the Palestinians — America and the EU — have for years insisted on democracy without “demanding accountability”:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/863018.html, or even a modicum of initiative and self-sufficiency. This is not aid; it is welfare. If there should ever be a moment when the institutions that are charged with improving the plight of the Palestinians take stock of what their benevolence has wrought, that moment it now, amidst Hamas’ acts of war against Israel, its entente with Iran, and its civil war with Fatah. Have all of these billions been helping the Palestinians, or hurting them?
Many observers of Hamas’ rise to power have noted that the U.S. wishes for the Hamas government to collapse under the weight of its own narcissistic radicalism and unrestrained ambition. But the U.S., UN, and EU are pumping so much money into the Palestinian territories that they’re preventing that collapse, and the ensuing recognition among Palestinians that their votes were perhaps cast unwisely. With its prolific foreign aid, the West is not just infantilizing the Palestinian people and continuing to thwart any possibility, however implausible, of a Palestinian state. It is now underwriting the emerging Palestinian-Iranian alliance.