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The Hamas Dilemma

3.13.2006

Its been a while since I sat down and read news, any news, or blogs for that matter. So this afternoon I wandered over to alertnews to find some of the stuff that doesnt make Reuters front page (its particularly good on Africa etc).

I found a few articles that underlined what is coming to be an alrmingly complex paradox to add to the already dense web of paradox and conflict at play in the Middle East. First up the news that Simon Peres on Sunday held informal meetings with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. This, to me, is good news, the talks represent some pragmatism on the part of Isreal which realises that despite Hamas relations with members of the PA who support a 2-state solution must be maintained and strengthened. At least I hope they do, for in the future you can be guaranteed that even relations with Abbas will become strained or irrelevant as the full impact of the Hamas victory comes into play in domestic and regional politics.

"This was not a political meeting," a senior government source said. "They discussed building a special emergency fund for humanitarian aid for the Palestinian population."
While I know a great deal of people have issues with welfare dependency, I think in this case it has to form part of a wider plan to help reassure Palestinian society and restabilise the PA in order to facilitate the ultimate creation of a Palestinian state. However the key issue here is not that Isreal is willing to create a fund to dole out Aid in the long run such an approach is not the best way in which to ensure peace. If the dependence on aid goes on longer than necessary it become self defeating and creates a social psychology of resenment and does not allow Palestinians to promote their own welfare.
But Israeli government officials have said Israel would not stop humanitarian aid from reaching the West Bank and Gaza. "(The meeting) was to establish what has been agreed upon in previous talks and to continue to keep the channels for humanitarian aid open," the senior Israeli government source said
Which is again a good thing as relations need to be maintained between parties on both sides who might be able to bring about a 2 state solution.

Setting aside the issue of whether Aid in the long run is feasible, we come to the crux of the paradox now facing our policy makers in the west. Its the news that Hamas found warm welcome in the arms of the hardliners in Saudi Arabia on a trip to ensure that funding for the PA will come from somewhere.

While it is clear the west faces a huge issue in ensuring Hamas recognises the Israeli state, it runs the risk of turning rhetoric about a terror state into fact by letting Hamas run to the arms of the Saudi backers of Islamic extremism. Its not simply Saudi that is waiting to underwrite another territorial conquest for extreme islam but Iran seems intested in underwriting its neonationalist strongman image in Palestine. There are accounts available of the manner in which most of the modern terror organisations still thrive on the funding available from Saudis and from territorial cannibalisation (the Afghan drug trade eg.)

The money trail is a fundamental aspect of dealing with terrorism and the potential to create a shell state which lines the war chest of terror organisations. Such is now the crux of the paradox facing the EU, US and others.

Do they hold their noses and continue to offer assistance to the PA while pushing the two state solution (during the terms of Hamas and whomever wins the forthcoming election in Israel) or withdraw funding on principles which are pretty sound but run the very real risk of turning Palestine into a very real terror state. The current Hamas regime is without doubt to be populated with men and women sympathetic to suicide bombers. Yet Hamas has managed to keep suicide bombings down during the recent ceasefire.

I would personally prefer to see funding continued in the short term by EU and US agencies while a strategy could be drawn up to ensure the continued existence of the PA which would not be reliant on the funding of fundamentalist fruitcakes.

The best outcome would surely be one where Hamas was brought to the table to endorse a two state solution but in the likely event of having to settle for less we ought be aware of the full impact which our decisions might lead to.

Is it a case of principle needing to triumph over pragmatic considerations or can a solution ride the uneasy paradox and compromise between values and safety. While I dont endorse any underwriting of the efforts of Hamas to attack Israel, I realise that the insitutions of Palestinian democracy are in frail health, they must be built up to cope with a transition to 2-states and also to keep at bay the extremism likely to be funded by Saudi and Iran.

Can we afford to lost Palestine too? That it seems is the question, and grappling with the issues at the heart of that question is not a nice prospect for western policy makers.

Update: Im aware that many of the characters who as members of the PLA would benefit from having a state are like this woman. I dont agree with her politics and neither, I suspect do the EU or the USA. Is the alternative (cutting the cash) worse in the long term, that is the question. To which the answer has to be yes.

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