by Malcolm Lowe
In view of the prospect that US money will soon go to Hamas personnel via the PA, the US Congress has every right to stop that financial aid. We still think, however, that it would be smarter to condition such aid money on a Palestinian commitment to remove all the rockets from Gaza under international supervision. Getting rid of those rockets would revolutionize the prospect of advances in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Imagine the prestige that would accrue to Secretary of State John Kerry if, within his term of office, the US succeeded in removing rockets from Gaza as well as chemical weapons from Syria.
A previous article pointed out that the new Palestinian "unity government," since it rules Gaza as well as the West Bank, has made itself responsible for the existence of thousands of rockets in Gaza that are aimed at Israel. At the very least, the article argued, all aid money going to the Palestinian Authority [PA] should now be made conditional on a commitment of that government to surrender all those rockets to international control. The elimination of Syria's chemical weapons provides an obvious model.
Now it has emerged that the entire personnel of the Hamas regime in Gaza is about to be put on the PA payroll. According to a report in YNet News:
Mofid al-Hasayneh, a minister in the Palestinian unity government, announced that a meeting had been held in Ramallah to discuss the issue of salaries of 40,000 officials who had been working under the Hamas government in Gaza. He said that the government is developing a system to pay these salaries before the beginning of Ramadan in two weeks.This should surprise nobody. Ever since the unity government was formed, Hamas has been emphasizing that its support will be withdrawn if its operatives are not henceforth paid by the PA. The reason for this is also simple and well known: Hamas itself can hardly pay them any longer, since funds from Iran were cut after Hamas began supporting the anti-Assad forces in Syria, while the new Egyptian regime closed down the tunnels through which other funds were being smuggled into Gaza.
"As soon as the mechanism is ready, we will announce the date for payment of salaries," he said, adding that in order to highlight unity, the new government wanted to hold a special meeting in Gaza, but that Israel was preventing it from taking place.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (center) speaks at the signing ceremony for the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. (Image source: Screenshot of AlJazeera video)
The previous article also anticipated such a development. This was its comment on an Israeli demand that PA forces should now return to policing Gaza: "But this would make things only worse. Hamas can simply enroll its own Gaza security personnel into the Palestinian Police and carry on as before, except that their salaries will now be paid from money donated to the Palestinian Authority. One of the reasons why Hamas agreed to the unity government was precisely that Hamas has lately experienced difficulties in paying its gunmen."
Admittedly, it is not yet clear that those 40,000 Hamas operatives include the Hamas security personnel. But if they are not yet included, they surely soon will be.
So how can the PA, which is chronically short of the means to pay its existing employees, take on tens of thousands more? The financial crisis that challenged its existence last year has resurfaced again this year, prompting the EU to send emergency funds in recent weeks.
According to another report, Qatar has promised a donation of $20 million to enable interim payment of those Hamas salaries, while the PA works out a permanent arrangement. Qatar envisages a total of $60 million for this purpose. Only Israel has vetoed the possibility of funds from Qatar, which is the biggest financier of the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is an offshoot). The Arab states, moreover, are notorious for making generous promises to the Palestinians but forgetting to fulfill them. In any case, the sum promised by Qatar would suffice for only a few weeks. Long term, the PA can rely only on those donor countries that do pay up regularly, principally the US and the EU.
This is the light in which to view another recent development: no fewer than 88 US Senators, led by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), sent a letter to the US Administration about Hamas involvement in the Palestinian unity government. They noted: "Recent events have consequences as to U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority as provided for in the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 and restrictions contained in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2014, including prohibiting foreign assistance to Hamas or any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member or over which Hamas has undue influence."
Their concerns were brushed off dismissively by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki: "This was the creation of an interim technocratic government. Obviously, at some point there will be elections. This is an interim period. As we've long stated, we'll – we're continuing assistance if we – but we'll be watching closely and if something changes, so we'll act accordingly."
Well, something has changed with the announcement made by Mofid al-Hasayneh. But obviously Ms. Psaki has not been "watching closely." Not only has she not reacted to that official announcement that Hamas personnel will be on the PA payroll within days. She also missed the reports about that intention that were circulating ever since the Palestinian unity government was formed.
In view of the prospect that US money will soon go to Hamas personnel via the PA, the US Congress has every right to stop that financial aid. We still think, however, that it would be smarter to condition such aid money on a Palestinian commitment to remove all the rockets from Gaza under international supervision.
Getting rid of those rockets, it hardly need be said, would revolutionize the prospect of advances in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, the PA is hardly in a position to refuse that demand. Not only is the Hamas regime virtually bankrupt, the PA itself is almost totally dependent on funds from non-Palestinian sources.
As is known, the PA has proven largely incompetent in collecting income tax, municipal taxes, electricity bills and water bills. The much respected Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was forced to resign in April 2013 over his attempts to introduce a credible form of income tax. In any event, that Palestinian income tax law (announced in September 2011) envisaged a maximum rate for both individuals and corporations of only 30%, with most Palestinians paying far less.
Consequently, the PA, which is by far the biggest employer of Palestinians, is helplessly dependent on two sources of money: taxes that are collected by Israel and passed on to the PA, and donor money from the US and the EU. The threat to stop all that money could hardly be resisted.
It is not to be expected that Israel will issue such a threat while the search continues for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Palestinians. As for money from the EU, whether from the EU Commission or from EU member states, generally it lies under the control of officials rather than parliaments. The US Congress, however, is free of those limitations.
A further point to be considered is this. Imagine the prestige that would accrue to Secretary of State John Kerry if, within his term of office, the US succeeded in removing rockets from Gaza as well as chemical weapons from Syria. It would also boost a renewed bid for the US presidency. Ms. Psaki, of course, is not required to take the latter prospect into consideration, but what about elementary loyalty to one's boss?
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