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Money Where Their Mouth Is: Feed the People, Not the Terrorists

November 22, 2006 By:
Evelyn Gordon
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If there's one thing at which the Palestinians excel, it is public relations. With their elected government ostracized by the West, their task would seem daunting. Yet despite this handicap, they have successfully diverted Western attention for months from two embarrassing questions.

The first relates to money. In recent months, the media has been filled with dire reports about the growing humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Authority. And, at first glance, this seems logical: The West cut off aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas took power, and since Western aid comprised most of the P.A.'s budget, a crisis would seem inevitable.

Yet as recent news reports have made clear, the P.A. appears to have plenty of money. It has simply chosen to use its funds for purposes other than its people's welfare.

For instance, Israeli intelligence has detected more than 20 tons of explosives being smuggled into Gaza this year, along with sophisticated antitank and antiaircraft missiles. Most of this weaponry goes to Hamas -- the ruling terrorist organization cum political party -- but significant quantities also go to terror groups associated with Fatah, P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas' party. The purchase price for this materiel -- including the cost of smuggling it into the Gaza -- could have been used to cover the unpaid salaries of thousands of P.A. employees, but Hamas and Fatah would rather buy arms than feed their people. And as long as this is true, giving either group more money would be futile.

Or consider the fact, noted in an International Monetary Fund report published last week, that in June, while the Hamas government was already pleading inability to pay existing P.A. employees, it decided to increase the P.A.'s payroll by hiring an additional 5,400 workers, mainly security personnel (read: gunmen) affiliated with Hamas. In other words, it had the cash to hire 5,400 Hamas-affiliated gunmen: It was only when it came to teachers and doctors that its pockets were suddenly empty.

Or consider the incredible fact that despite the boycott, the European Union -- for years, the P.A.'s principal donor -- has actually given more money to the Palestinians this year than it did in previous years. According to the International Herald Tribune, the European Union claims to have given $814 million to the Palestinians between January and October, "more than it would in a normal year."

If this money were being used for its intended purpose, a humanitarian crisis would seem unlikely. So is the humanitarian crisis a propaganda lie, or has this money, too, been diverted by its recipients to purposes other than the Palestinians' welfare?

If the P.A.'s finances ought to prompt hard questions from the West, this is no less true of its counterterror efforts -- or rather, the lack thereof. For years, the West has maintained that Abbas, unlike Hamas, wants to fight terror, but is incapable of doing so. Yet in fact, Abbas' forces have demonstrated exceptional proficiency in handling certain types of attacks -- namely, those directed at Western journalists and aid workers.

In every such kidnapping, however, the victims have been released unharmed, usually within 24 hours. And in every single case, this has been due to P.A. intervention, usually by Abbas' office. This begs an obvious question: How is it that Abbas' security forces are so quickly able to locate and free kidnapped Westerners, but are completely incapable of dealing with any other type of terrorist activity?

The conclusion is obvious: Abbas has no interest whatsoever in fighting anti-Israel terror, because that would be unpopular with his own public.

If the West is serious about wanting an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it will have to stop turning a blind eye to both the P.A.'s misuse of funds earmarked for its people's welfare and its refusal -- not inability -- to combat anti-Israel terror. Because if the P.A. can enjoy Western diplomatic and material support even without amending its behavior, it will have no incentive to change. And without change, neither the conflict nor Palestinian misery will end.

Evelyn Gordon is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

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