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Hamas Has the West to Thank By: Olga Hartmann
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 17, 2006

European and American governments have threatened to halt funding to the Palestinians as soon as Hamas takes over the government.  And yet for years they have known that the billions of dollars in funds they continue to sink into the PA’s coffers have been embezzled or squandered.  President Bush and the EU have chosen to view Abbas the honest alternative to Yasser Arafat, a man who will safeguard the funds being poured into his government. Hamas’s recent victory in the government is a direct result of the Western community’s deliberate refusal to acknowledge and put a stop to the corruption they helped fund.

It is well known that Arafat was corrupt. In David Samuels’ September 2005 biographical article on Yasser Arafat in The Atlantic Monthly, Samuels writes: “The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat's inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself.”


Abbas was seen as the solution to Arafat. He was a man of his word who had waited in Arafat’s shadow to emerge as the one person who could fight terrorism and clean up the corruption, and in doing so revive the Palestinian economy. In his inaugural speech, Abbas said he was aware of the urgency in implementing a plan of reform, and that the preservation of public funds was “a national and moral duty.” On the day he was elected, the Hamas welcomed Abbas, but warned in their news weekly al-Risala, that fighting corruption was “more important than negotiating with Israel,” and that “if the people think he is serious [about this], they will support him.”


But Abbas immediately focused on trying to coerce militant groups into giving up their guns and joining the PA security forces when he should have been focusing on the corruption that fueled the militants’ anger. As a member of the Jenin Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’s Fatah party advised, “…if Mr. Abbas's government was clean and strong, militant factions would no longer need to exist.”


In the last year, Abbas has ordered symbolic, ineffectual measures to be taken in order to placate the angry public. Last April, when gunmen were routinely raiding Fatah offices and shooting at his residence in protest of high unemployment and low salaries, Abbas fired several security chiefs for “failing to halt lawlessness” and ordered the prosecutor general to investigate three finance ministry officials and one of Arafat’s former aides for the embezzlement of millions of dollars in public funds. Nothing was ever heard of these investigations again.


In recent years, Abbas’s investigations and calls for transparency have been enough to convince the international community that the funds are safe. The numerous calls by US congressmen and members of European Parliament to investigate the use of financial aid in the territories have been met with ineffectual probing and the continued transfer of funds.


Now, Hamas has won the majority in Parliament because of its clean government platform, and Fatah gunmen are still storming Abbas’s headquarters, demanding that corrupt officials in the top eschelon, who have still not been fired, resign. The president’s impotence is evident. Now he waits for his Western benefactors to save him. And eventually, they will come around.


Once the US and Europe begin talking to the new Palestinian government, which they will, they will use Abbas as their buffer, feeling better that they are funneling money through an “honest” individual with democratic values, rather than a terrorist entity. But this time, if Hamas keeps its word, the money will not be put into Swiss bank accounts or companies that do not exist. Some of it will very likely be put towards the betterment of the average Palestinian’s life, but it may also show up in the purchase and production of new missiles and more weapons to be used against Israel. If the West had not ignored the distress signals coming from the Palestinian people and from within its own ranks, then Hamas would not be cleaning house today.


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Olga Hartmann is a former writer and editor for The Jerusalem Post. She spent several years in the IDF as an officer. She was a Sauve Scholar at McGill University, and concentrated on researching different approaches to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

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