When Condoleeza Rice visited and met with Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli government leaders recently, in the context of daily Israeli incursions into Gaza and regular in-fighting between Fatah and Hamas militants, she talked a lot about peace and helping the Palestinians, promising to "redouble" efforts to improve Palestinian living conditions. However, most Palestinians knew the real reason for her visit – to convey U.S. support to Abbas and Fatah.
She met with Abbas in Ramallah, where she expressed "great admiration" for his leadership and promised him the "strong commitment of the United States". Then, quite amazingly, it was announced that the U.S. would allocate $26 million to "expand" Abbas' Presidential guard from 3,500 to 6,000 men. At a time when the Palestinians seem to be moving ever closer to a civil war, it is obvious what this means.
Then, yesterday, the U.S. "quietly started a campaign" to bolster Hamas' political opponents in the event of an upcoming election, expected to cost up to $46 million (a lot of money in the Occupied Territories – more than three times the amount spent by the main parties and candidates in the January election.) "'This project supports (the) objective to create democratic alternatives to authoritarian or radical Islamist political options,' one official U.S. document obtained by Reuters said."
U.S. Consul General Jacob Walles said, "We are not promoting any particular party. In fact, we will work with any party as long as it is not affiliated with a terrorist organisation". Now, there are some problems with this. First, it's a flagrant lie. As I've already said, the U.S. has allocated $26 million specifically to expand President Abbas' Presidential Guards. Then there's the fact that Fatah is linked to a terrorist group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades are Fatah's military wing. Since the U.S. and Israel consistently fail to distinguish between the political and military wings of Hamas, there is no way they can justify doing so for Fatah. So in other words the U.S. government is, in effect, funding a terrorist organisation and so, under Bush law, they should be disappeared to Guantanamo Bay.
Second, Hamas is a democratic party. It was elected in January in free and fair elections by the Palestinian people, and has a strong mandate to represent them. By funding Fatah and other Hamas opponents, the U.S. is working to subvert the democratic choice of the Palestinian people.
An incident happened late last week which illustrated perfectly the shifting alliances in the Occupied Territories. A U.S. volunteer was kidnapped by a previously unknown group and held for a day in Nablus. He was freed on Thursday unharmed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and brought to the mayor's office accompanied by 20 al-Aqsa militants. The U.S. and Fatah, and by extension the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, are now firm allies, out of common interest more than anything else. The U.S. and Israel need Hamas out of office because they know that Hamas will stand up and demand from them that Palestinian rights are upheld. Fatah, history has shown, will not. Hamas, incidentally, are fully aware of this paradigm shift — its operatives have been pushing their leadership to authorise attacks on U.S. targets throughout the Middle East.
A Hamas statement, furious at the latest U.S. intervention, said, "This is not the first time we discover that the U.S. has transferred funds to Fatah. In the general Palestinian parliament elections the (American) government financed Fatah parliament members [then as now, Fatah shamefully accepted U.S. funding], but the financial aid did not help them and they were defeated in the elections…Still, they are the ones continuing to incite against the government, wearing the new clothes of the president's advisors."
Abbas, for his part, is desperate to regain power after Hamas swept to a surprise victory in the January elections. That is why he has collaborated with U.S. and Israeli plans to topple Hamas, using the civil service strikes as political cover knowing full well that the reason they have not been paid has nothing to do with Hamas mis-management of the economy and everything to do with foreign intervention. It is why Abbas has collaborated with the 'quartet' in demanding Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past agreements despite the fact that none of these 'preconditions' are applied to Israel, the aggressor and the occupier.
Israel, unlike Hamas which imposed and largely kept to a unilateral ceasefire for over a year, has never renounced violence. It refuses outright to abide by previous agreements (for example, its expansion of the settlements violates the both spirit of Oslo and the word of the 'roadmap', as well as international law). And while Hamas refuses to recognise the Israeli state in words, Israel refuses to recognise the Palestinian state in deed, which is far more meaningful. Israel has stood in the way of and deliberately prevented a two-state settlement for years now, and yet it is Hamas the international community, and to his shame Abbas, are making demands of. As Ramzy Baroud summarises, "Both Fatah and Hamas are allowing their desire for self-preservation and advancement to supplant the self-preservation of the Palestinian national unity, or whatever remains of it."
This latest U.S. intervention must be understood in terms of the constant U.S. and international meddling that has been going on since the Palestinians chose the wrong people to represent them in January. As soon as Hamas was elected to power, Israel and the U.S. recognised that they had to go. Israel started to withhold tax receipts it collected, as the occupying power, on behalf of the Palestinian government, now amounting to some $500 million. The international community, led by Israel and the U.S., largely stopped giving aid to the Palestinians. This is incredibly important, because thanks to the occupation many Palestinians are heavily reliant on foreign aid merely to survive. Donor aid to the Palestinians will drop by 30% to 50% this year compared to last, and `in the most severe scenario, which now seems the more likely, the Palestinian economy will shrink to levels not witnessed for a generation. From 2006 to 2008, losses in GDP could reach $5.4bn, and 84% of the jobs available last year will disappear.'
With more than 160,000 civil service workers striking over lack of pay, the Palestinian economy is in absolute ruins. It is undergoing a severe depression comparable to the Great Depression of the '30s, according to the World Bank, which predicted in March this year that the Palestinian economy would shrink by 27% in 2006, with unemployment nearly doubling to 39.6% and the percentage of those living below the poverty line increasing by half to 67%.
As John Dugard, U.N special rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Territories, explains, "The humanitarian situation in both the West Bank and Gaza is appalling. At least 4 out of 10 Palestinians live under the official poverty line of less than US$ 2.10 a day and unemployment stands at least 40 per cent…To aggravate matters, the public sector, which accounts for 23 per cent of total employment in the Palestinian territory, is employed but unpaid as a result of the withholding of funds owed to the Palestinian Authority by the Government of Israel, amounting to $50 to 60 million per month…In effect, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions – the first time an occupied people have been so treated."
Not only have Israel and the international community worked to overthrow Hamas by destroying the Palestinian economy further using international aid and tax receipts as tools to blackmail the Palestinian people; Israel has also increased the number of military roadblocks in the West Bank by 40% this year, meaning the West Bank is increasingly being carved up into small pieces. In the words of David Shearer, head of the U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem, "We are seeing a continuing closing down, locking down of Palestinian areas…The West Bank, for example, is effectively being chopped up into three big areas… and there are pockets within those areas where people also can't move."
These checkpoints help separate farmers from fields, husbands from wives, employees from jobs, and are one of the main reasons for the dire state of the Palestinian economy. But even after months of international and Israeli economic strangulation, Hamas remained in power and the Palestinians remained resolute. So, on June 25, the Israelis used the capture of a soldier as a pretext for launching a massive military campaign against Gaza, cynically named `Operation Summer Rains'. In the course of this operation, six transformers at a Gaza power station were bombed by six separate Israeli missiles, in what B'Tselem and everyone else with a moral conscience described as a war crime. That Gaza power station provided over 40% of Gaza with electricity needed for air conditioning, hospitals, the sewage system and for power, and Israel with a cold calculation destroyed it at the height of summer. The Hamas Interior Ministry was bombed by Israeli jets several times, and raids have continued, killing Hamas militants and Palestinian civilians daily. B'Tselem was wrong to describe the bombing of the Gaza power plant as an `act of vengeance' because, as Jonathan Cook notes, that relies on the assumption that Israel is acting in 'good faith'. In fact, it was just the latest act in the Israeli strategy to collectively punish the Palestinian people for electing Hamas.
The number of Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces this year has almost doubled compared to last year, after 13 year-old Suhaib Kadiah became the 92nd child to die this year when she was shot by Israeli troops in Gaza.
Incidentally, the U.S.' and Israel's strategy of collective punishment seems to be working, with opinion polls now roughly split half-and-half between Hamas and Fatah. Fatah, like everyone else in the region, recognises that this is solely due to the economic crisis imposed on the Palestinians from the outside, and has worked hard to capitalise on this. But, in reality, it is in neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli peoples' interests for Hamas to be toppled from power. It will teach them and other militant groups a lesson – that politics is for those who are willing to submit to U.S. and Israeli interests only. More than likely, the failure of Hamas will lead to an even more radical and extremist replacement, much as the failure of the PLO lead to the rise of Hamas. That would be good for no-one. The Israeli/US `experiment' has worked: the perpetuation of the occupation has been secured, but at the expense of international law, immeasurable human suffering and the security of the Palestinian and the Israeli people.Powered by Sidelines