President Bush is clearly determined to bring peace to the Middle East. However, the pressure put on Israel by the British premier Tony Blair and World Bank President James Wolfenson will only assist in the creation of an independent terrorist Palestine. Arafat’s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, is widely perceived as being more pragmatic than his predecessor, especially since he keeps repeating his commitment to peace. But at the same time, like Arafat, he calls on the Palestinian people to “continue the struggle…to raise the Palestinian flag on the walls of Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state.”
The need for security reforms in the Palestinian authority, i.e. dismantling all the terrorist organizations, the bomb workshops, the smuggling of weapons, and making all the security forces accountable to a single leadership, was acknowledged by the World Bank’s own December 2004 report “Stagnation or Revival: Israeli Disengagement and Palestinian Economic Prospects.” However, Wolfenson doesn’t want to wait until that happens. Instead, he wants to remove all Israeli closures and checkpoints immediately as a condition to increasing international aid to the Palestinians to almost $1.5 billion a year. This “common sense” step, according to Wolfenson, will “restore the possibility of hope for young Palestinians.”
However, Palestinians young and old will have no hope unless the Palestinian Authority stops all terrorist attacks against Israel and Israelis, stops religious and secular incitement against Israel on television and in the print media, changes its official maps and the maps used in Palestinian school textbooks to include the State of Israel, and updates history textbooks used in the Palestinian schools. Only then will it be possible for a true democratic state to emerge in the Palestinian territory, as President Bush has called for.
The Palestinians have asked international donors for four to six billion dollars for the next four years to help them rebuild the economy, but the donor community has already seen billions of its dollars disappear while the Palestinian economy collapsed and many Palestinians were left living on $2 a day.
Many of these Palestinians receive their economic support and social services not from the Palestinian Authority, but from HAMAS. Although HAMAS is not challenging Mahmoud Abbas’ candidacy directly, it is continuing to build up support for itself among the disenfranchised Palestinian population. With a well-established civilian/military infrastructure in the PA-administered territories, HAMAS has an annual budget is estimated at around $70 million, at least $20 million of which it receives from Interpal, the HAMAS front organization in the UK. Interpal not only raises funds for HAMAS in the UK, but also serves as the major courier of funds from other HAMAS-affiliated organizations in Europe to the West Bank and Gaza. Its activities are documented at length by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
Why does the Blair administration allow a HAMAS front to openly operate in the UK? After all, following US pressure, the European Union as well as the UK have outlawed HAMAS as a terrorist organization and prohibited the collection of money to assist terrorist organizations for any purpose, including civilian. Is the electoral support of the anti-Israeli lobby that crucial to the Blair administration staying in power? In his attempts to hold on to power, Blair apparently fails to understand that HAMAS’ continued operations will eventually undermine any hope for a viable Palestinian state.
President Bush has called on the free world to focus “on helping the Palestinians develop a state.” However, Mr. Blair’s negligence of stopping Interpal’s activities and the funding of HAMAS in the UK stand in striking contradiction to the President’s plea. So does Mr. Wolfenson’s insistence on Israel’s relaxation of its necessary security measures in the West Bank and Gaza, which he claims impede the economic development of the Palestinians.
The President is right in saying that the Palestinians have to first prove that they are serious about stopping terrorism, and only then, by setting benchmarks for Palestinian reforms and milestones for their fulfillment, should the international donor community resume donations as a sign of its confidence in the new Palestinian leadership.
Rachel Ehrenfeld, PhD is Director of American Center for Democracy, author of many publications and several books, the most recent of which is Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – And How to Stop It. Her website is www.public-integrity.org.