Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Shocking Secret in Plain Sight: U.S. Policy Sabotages U.S. Policy

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By Barry Rubin

U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff made a fairly good speech in the Security Council. But it contained the following remarkable section:

“The Palestinian Authority is, in effect, a lifeline to more than half a million people in Gaza, making sure that PA salaries are paid and social welfare payments are made on time. The PA plans to devote roughly half of its $3.9 billion budget to Gaza in 2010.”

Now it isn't my job to correct factual mistakes made by U.S. government officials in their speeches. Is half the money the Palestinian Authority (PA) spends, which largely comes from Western donors, going to Gaza where—whatever humanitarian intentions exist—it shores up the Hamas regime? No, that would be around $2 billion. The correct figure in total PA aid for the last year is $500 million.

Still, doing this is the equivalent of sending massive economic assistance to the Taliban government in Afghanistan on the rationale that it is helping poor Afghans. And that this were done while the Taliban was making possible the September 11 attacks on the United States. Essentially, the United States and Europe are (indirectly) subsidizing an Iranian client state.

Oh yes, and it also means that in per capita terms the Hamas domain is one of the largest recipients of Western aid on a per capita basis in the world. Even when corrected to a half-billion dollars that means that Gaza Strip residents get more Western aid per capita than Israel. Israel's aid all comes from the United States. Most of the money is tied to buying weapons from U.S. companies. In comparison, the money going into Gaza has no strings attached. Of course, it goes to individuals but bolsters the local economy and a lot of it ends up in the pockets of Hamas and its institutions.

In theory, the PA is spending the money to bolster its influence in the Gaza Strip and to retain its popularity there. But it has no power in the area at all and its operations have been either closed down or taken over. The situation is sort of parallel to the Free French under Charles de Gaulle during World War Two receiving U.S. and British money which it then sent in as aid to collaborationist or German-ruled France. The spending brings no political benefit whatsoever for those paying it.

But aside from that point there is another, equally startling one: U.S. policy is supposedly intended to show that Palestinians are better off in the relatively peaceful, friendly to the West, ready to live alongside Israel [I know the problems with this but bear with me] Fatah-ruled West Bank than in the terrorist-ruled, Iran-allied Gaza Strip. But if U.S. and other Western aid shores up the Hamas regime then U.S. policy is…sabotaging U.S. policy.

Of course, U.S. policy should be to overthrow the Hamas regime, not for Israel's sake, not even given the fact that its existence furthers Iran's efforts to transform the Middle East and expel U.S. influence through promoting anti-Western Islamist revolutions. The best argument, given the current administration's world view, is that this should be done because the existence of a Hamas regime makes it impossible to achieve Israel-Palestinian peace.

Could anything be more obvious? All those advocates of linking (wrongly) the conflict to every other problem in the region (and world) should be working day and night to get rid of Hamas' regime so they can make peace. The more vital is Israel-Palestinian peace, the more urgent is the task of overthrowing Hamas.

Would Egypt be unhappy at such a policy? On the contrary, it is blockading the Gaza Strip every bit as much as Israel. It fears the spread of revolutionary Islamism to its own people. Would the Saudis and Jordanians and the majority in Lebanon and many other Arabs be unhappy to see Hamas brought down and the PA return to Gaza? Not at all. Even the PA, though it won't lift a finger to retake that territory, would certainly like to have it back.

In Europe, one sees trends toward "engaging" with Hamas, a terrorist, antisemitic, and genocidal group under the euphemism of respecting elections. Here's how the Dutch Labour party puts it in its official position:

"The EU should accept the outcome of the Palestinian elections and can retain contact with each Palestinian faction that comes to power through democratic means."

"The Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah should reconcile with each other. Without unity between both groups peace in the region is not possible."

There are two fallacies here being repeated also in the United Kingdom, in the EU's own thinktank, and elsewhere:

--Hamas came to power through elections? That's false. Hamas did come in first place in the elections, then formed a coalition government with Fatah, but then staged a violent coup to seize power completely. Thus, the Hamas government in power in the Gaza Strip today came to power through a military strike, not elections. Indeed, it overthrew the election result. Since then, it has virtually outlawed the main opposition party, Fatah, and arrested its activists. How is this different from any other coup against a democratic system to install a dictatorship elsewhere in the world?

--Unity between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas is a precondition for peace? This is absurd since such a combination could never make peace: Hamas doesn't want it and the PA would be paralyzed and made more radical by such a coalition. A Hamas-Fatah coalition is a formula for a new Palestinian-Israel war and the alliance of the Palestinian entity with Iran and Syria.

So Western policy should be to use overt, covert, diplomatic, and economic means to overthrow Hamas. It is better to do this now before the Hamas regime comes under Iran's nuclear umbrella. Of course, one would estimate that Tehran would never go to nuclear war to save Hamas from overthrow, but the threat--and possibility--would be there and any chance of changing the situation would probably be gone.

I know that Western policymakers are not going to adopt an active strategy of overthrowing Hamas or supporting Israel in doing so. Nevertheless, only by understanding this tremendous error can the broader picture in the region and regarding Western, and especially U.S., policy be understood. To put it charitably, short-run humanitarian concern is overcoming both strategic considerations and longer-run humanitarian concern. To put it more realistically, a combination of fear, sloth, ignorance, and avoiding problems is the explanation for this strategic failure.

Yet this one aspect of dangerously mistaken policy renders Western strategy in the region ridiculous and impotent.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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