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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The 'Quartet' Caves a Little

When I first heard that the 'quartet' had decided to set up a "temporary international mechanism" for funding to get to the 'Palestinians,' I thought that the quartet had really weakened its resolve. That's certainly how some of my right wing colleagues in the blogosphere are looking at it:

I have no objection to sending food and medicine to the Palestinian people for humanitarian purposes. However, sending money and paying the salaries of those with Fatah and Hamas government sinecures undermines the entire purpose of isolating the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians voted these people into power, primarily because they believed that they would not have to suffer the consequences of electing unreconstructed terrorists as their representatives. Just when that decision started to make a personal impact on the people who made that decision, the Quartet has performed their normal Deus ex Machina role, rescuing the Palestinians once again from their own folly.

And what will be the result of handing cash over to these government employees? The Hamas government will collect taxes from the salaries, and probably in large amounts. The commerce it restores will also generate tax revenues for the Hamas-led government. Freed from the responsibility of paying salaries, just where will all those tax dollars go? It won't get earmarked for Bridges and Trains to Nowhere. And that assumes that Hamas (and Fatah as well) won't simply confiscate a large part of that money up front.

But it's not clear to me that the 'quartet' went quite as far as the Captain thinks they went. Today in Israel, the Israeli government (admittedly not the most rational body in the world) is satisfied with the 'quartet's' action, while Hamas has gone ballistic. On top of that, Dor Energy, which supplies gasoline to the 'Palestinians,' cut off supplies this morning because their bills have not been paid; by tomorrow there should be no gasoline in 'Hamastan'. Let's look at what the 'quartet' did and why the reactions in this part of the world are what they are.

In its statement, which started out way too 'even-handed' for my tastes, the 'quartet' said that it was willing to endorse "a temporary international mechanism that is limited in scope and duration, operates with full transparency and accountability, and ensures direct delivery of assistance to the Palestinian people. If these criteria can be met, the operation of the temporary international mechanism should begin as soon as possible and be reviewed after three months to determine whether it should continue.... The Quartet welcomed the offer of the European Union to develop and propose such a mechanism."

Note a few things here:

1. The mechanism is temporary. Yes, things that are temporary have a way of becoming permanent, but for now it's temporary and subject to review in three months.

2. It requires that assistance be delivered directly to the 'Palestinian people.'

3. It's only endorsed "if these criteria can be met."

The decision doesn't mean that the 'quartet' is going to start paying the salaries of all the 'Palestinian Authority' workers tomorrow morning. This is what Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni had to say:

Livni, who spoke to Army Radio on Wednesday morning, stressed, "This decision is only the first step in a process. They must decide how will this fund be set up, how will it operate and who would control it."

The foreign minister added that Israel was always supportive of the need to keep the Hamas-led PA an illegitimate entity but also ensure basic humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territories.

"Part of these conditions, such as medicine, are provided, in part, by doctors and nurses who are PA employees. So the problem of the international community is: can health be taken care of only by paying for medicine, or do we reach a situation where there is no doctor to treat those in need of medical care?" Livni said. "This issue was not solved yesterday, it will be further deliberated."

Suppose a doctor won't work without pay, but if he comes to work, you pay him in food rather than in cash. That could work.

The JPost notes that,

The new fund is supposed to administer only money for basic human needs. But both European and US diplomats said that at some point it might be used to pay salaries for urgently needed doctors or teachers or for other services that the Hamas government otherwise would be expected to provide.

My guess is that as long as George W. Bush occupies the White House, you are going to have a hard time convincing him that teachers (to take one example) are 'urgently needed.' Even if he's not footing the bill.


Speaking Wednesday in Ramallah on the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh slammed the United States and its Western allies for demands on his government, but did not reject the temporary program.

"The Quartet brings from time to time conditions to force the government to concede the rights and recognize the legality of the occupation," Ismail Haniyeh said.

"I believe the government will remain faithful to the Palestinian rights and will keep seeking the equation that protects the Palestinian people. The financial crisis has never been a factor dividing the Palestinians. It will be a factor that unites them," he told reporters.

I think Mr. Haniyeh is mistaken. A poll issued by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) shows some interesting results.

* A clear majority (57.7%) evaluate the general economic condition in the Palestinian territories as "bad".

*A clear majority (61.7%) believe that the Palestinian government is incapable of providing job opportunities.

* Around one- third (33.9%) think of leaving their present residences and travel abroad.

* More than one third (38.3%) are in favor of Hamas, (31.9%) are in favor of Fatah.

* An overwhelming majority (85.3%) believe that the European and US-American financial aid contributes to the well-being of the Palestinian people.

* A clear majority (58.8%) are discontent with the quality of their lives and the lives of their families.

* An overwhelming majority (92.1%) consider the permit of Syria regarding the entry of the Palestinians to its territories as a step in the right direction.

Given that this poll reflects the results of two months' salaries not being paid, one has to wonder what a similar poll will say if salaries are not paid for another six months.

According to the JPost, the United States is not expected to contribute to the fund (and no one is suggesting that Israel will release taxes to it either) so the 'Palestinians' will still have a significant budgetary shortfall as a noose around their necks. The EU has proposed to send money directly to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to be spent on hospitals, schools and humanitarian needs. If he spends the money on something else, it's one faucet to shut off and not tens of faucets.

As long as it's temporary, and as long as it's conditioned on Abbas only distributing it in kind and not in cash I don't think we need to worry about it being taxed by Hamastan, and I'm willing to wait and see what happens. The stronger the voice of the Bush administration in the funds' disposition, the less leery I am of the fund's existence.

Update 6:35 PM

Israel's ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon says that Israel will oppose the payment of PA employees' salaries by the 'quartet.'


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