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Aid to Hamas

1.30.2006

Over at the must read TPM cafe, there is a wonderfully concise yet salient post on the victory for Hamas in the PA elections.

It takes up the theme quite strongly that a vote for Hamas was not a vote for war and Islamism in the main but a vote against corruption and misappropriation of people's wealth. Such as it stands the victory for Hamas should focus the minds of the White House on the major issues regarding democratisation in the Middle East. The simple and crude instruments that are elections are not sufficient to ensure that open debate occurs and that fundamentalist views on all sides are challenged. More and more support needs to be given to hard working democrats on all sides in order to ensure that a system of debate over central issues will not be still born as it was in the period of African decolonisation.

The primal belief in the power of elections to set modernity on its inevitable path through the middle east is misplaced and requires some nuance. Unfortunately it requires such nuance very quickly to deal with the upcoming issue of funding for a PA with Hamas as majority member. If we are to see movement on deals and ceasefires then the Aid must stay.

There are both Liberal and Realist arguments for maintaininig aid.

Realists will point, quite correctly, to Hamas' historical closeness to both the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the broader Islamist movement in Iran. It wont have escaped notice that Hamas leaders spent some time in Tehran prior to the election. It is thought that Iran offered financial support for the regime should they require it.

Any realist in any western foreign policy circle will quickly point to the irrationality of allowing a key player in Middle East Peace (as they are now the negotiating power elected by the people), to become financially dependent on the Iranian regime. The realist would highlight the opportunity to use aid to ensure that Hamas maintains its ceasefire and moves toward moderate policy positions. It also maintains leverage over negotiations (indeed that may be what the current round of threats amount to).

Liberals in the policy department would take some persuading to see withdrawing of aid in any better a light, while national and foreign goals may be best served, there is also the undeniable need to promote the validity of democracy and also enhance the capacity of new democracies to support argument, debate and the peaceful exchange of power.

In order to support this key phase of transition, the aid must be maintained and funnelled to ground projects and maintaining support on the street for the people's right to elect and change government. The withdrawal of aid will hurt those most who have least deserved it. The PA has little or no capacity to raise its own revenue since its economy is a mess since the second Intifada began. Liberals would see the trade off as one which, once made, would begin to benefit in bringing Hamas closer to the center and closer to negotiations on a settlement of border issues. Also the presence of US/EU aid would help to curb the most reactionary tendencies in Hamas which hope to turn Palestine into a Sharia state. Though some would cringe at the cultural interference being implied by the liberal argument, there is some grounds for it in this case.

Palestine has no long history of sympathy for Islamic extremeism, and has often been part of an arab nationalist tendency, which has often been secular. Arab identity was seen as more key than muslim identity. The ability of Hamas to provide key services to those who need it may have softened such positions, but it is clear that there needs to be support for secular forces which can be trusted to hold back the potential excesses of Sharia.

Such forces can only be maintained through the Aid structure which both supports the government and also those who might keep an eye on them.

This was intended to be a much shorter post, yet I hope I have given some food for thought on the issue of Aid to the PA under Hamas. We cannot afford to leave and abandon the key to middle east peace in the throes of poverty, occupation and ultimately war. The prospect of peace is too near with a thawing of the Israelis across the table.

While Hamas cannot be given free reign as yet, the Aid is central to keeping the process on track and must not be withdrawn at such an early stage.

RR

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