“We Are Hungry!”

I feel the need to go back and address some of the issues I raised yesterday as overnight developments in Palestine help clarify the point I was trying to make. The picture painted by Pat Buchanan and seconded – albeit with a bit more equanimity by Matt Yglesias – is one in which America's reaction to the election of Hamas in January is to blame for the latest crisis unfolding in the Palestinian territories. In many respects they are right, but not in the way they think. Let me explain.

In response to the election of Hamas, the long-standing flow of aid from Western nations to the Palestinian Authority was cut-off. This is not to be confused with humanitarian aid which continues to flow, with new logistical obstacles to overcome, to the beleaguered people of Palestine. Rather, the aid cut-off was aimed at starving the Hamas-led government. In particular this posed an immediate crisis in terms of how the government would pay the swollen ranks of some 160,000 Palestinians who depend on government jobs for their livelihoods. Yesterday these long-simmering economic tensions came to a head when Palestinian civil servants stormed the Parliament in Ramallah, chanting "We are hungry!" and hurling plastic water bottles and fists at the legislators from Hamas.

The corollary to the Yglesias-Buchanan perspective is that the Western powers are obliged to respond to the chaos by continuing to fund the government irregardless of who is running it either out of humanitarian concern or out of naked self-interest, i.e. the situation is making America look bad in the Arab world. But it strikes me as counter productive to engage in any effort to keep afloat a government as inimical to the interests of America or peace as that which is being run by Hamas. It must be allowed to collapse under the weight of its own ineptitude. This is precisely why the Hamas victory in January is perhaps a blessing in disguise, as it forced the militant group to engage in governing – not just tossing literal and figurative bombs from the sidelines. No American wealth should go towards shoring up this hideous regime.

As for the humanitarian issues, it is critical that we find a mechanism to address these needs. And the European Commission is currently working to formulate a plan for the delivery of international aid to the Palestinains. According to the EU proposal, up to $30 million a month in cash "allowances" would be given directly to government employees who provide essential services, particularly health care.

The Americans are not comfortable with this arrangement as there is concern that the money may violate an American ban on paying salaries to a Hamas government. So the negotiations continue, with the World Bank caught somewhere in the middle between the US and European positions. What should not be lost in all this misery is the simple fact that this crisis could be resolved – and much larger issues besides – if Hamas explicitly rejected violence and recognized Israel.

This is in many respects a self-inflicted wound.

Explore posts in the same categories: Israel/Palestine

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