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President Obama adressing AIPAC conference
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Gala at AIPAC conference

Former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Barry Rubin
photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, May 29, 2011,updated June 9, 2011

WASHINGTON-One of the issues discussed during a session of the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee]Conference in Washinton  was the issue of whether the United States ought to be cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority in light of its reconciliation with Hamas, which remains an unrepentant terrorist organization. Hamas has not agreed to recognize the right of Israel to exist and also has not recognized previous accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
The issue of aid arose in a session devoted to whether or not there was a Palestinian partner.
Elliot Abrams, former Deputy National Security Advisor to  George Bush, said he was in favour of the U.S. not providing anymore aid to Mahmoud Abbas’s PA as long as an unreformed Hamas has unified with Abbas.
Abrams said he assumed that if the U.S. cut aid, someone else (the Arab states or Europeans) would replace it, but that the tax dollars of U.S. taxpayers ought not to be funneled to a Fatah-Hamas government, since Hamas is a terrorist organization.
Abram’s view is in line with that presented by David Frum, author and former speech writer for George W Bush. Frum, who was in Winnipeg last month,  said that as long as Hamas is a terror organization, the U.S (and also Canada )ought to be cutting aid.
Frum amplified his view on May 28  in the National Post . He wrote that Obama ought to tell Abbas that if Abbas continues with his bid to go to the U.N. to seek a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, Obama should remind him of how economically dependent he is on the U.S. and on Israeli co-operation. According to Frum, Obama should say:

“…(2) The economy of your declared [Palestinian] state depends abjectly on foreign aid: $675 per person per year. (For comparison: Sub-Saharan Africa receives $48 per person per year.)

“A May 27 BBC report describes the importance of this aid: ... what would happen if the funding stopped? ‘Salaries would not be paid. Employees would stop spending. People could not pay rent or bank loans or electricity bills,’ says Mr Abdul Karim. ‘The domino effect would play a major role in crippling the whole economy.’ “

“(3) The United States provides more than half this money, either directly to the Palestinian Authority or indirectly, via the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. So who exactly has leverage over who here?

 “(4) Beyond cash, the United States provides equipment and training for the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. Without that assistance, those forces would fall below even their current standards of effectiveness.

 “(5) PA electricity, water, and customs revenues all depend on Israeli co-operation. The Palestinian economy will collapse without Israel — and only the United States has leverage over Israel.

At the AIPAC conference, there was an opposite view expressed by former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, who is now the President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

He argued that the U.S. ought not to cut aid to the Palestinians as this would only serve to radicalize the Palestinian population and strengthen the popularity of Hamas. He said that the U.S. ought to be doing everything to “strengthen Fatah over Hamas” in the run up to promised elections in the territories. “We want to see Fatah win in the West bank over Hamas.” 

Wexler’s comments are premised on the assumption that there will be elections in the West Bank and Gaza within one year of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Yet,  Barry Rubin, Director, Global Research for International Affairs (Gloria) in a different session emphasized that he believes that Hamas is “a one election” party and that if Hamas senses it will lose the elections it will find a reason to not have them at all. It is debatable whether there will actually be a vote.

Dr. Tal Becker, International Associate, The Washington Institute for Near Eat Policy, in his remarks stressed that the mindset of Abbas has already shifted, "he is on his way out", and it would be “a badge of honour” for him in Palestinian society if the U.S. cut aid. "He wants to be remembered as having left the Palestinian people as unified, and as having stood up to the U.S," Becker said. As such, economic sanctions against the Palestinians won’t make Abbas change his mind and give up his reconciliation with Hamas.

For its part, J-Street, which has been defining itself as counterweight to AIPAC
has urged  President Obama not to make any rash decisions about aid to the Palestinians in light of their unity agreement with Abbas. A New York Times editorial from May 14 that calls for a  measured response to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement:
It’s too early for a cut-off [of aid to the Palestinians]. The money is Washington’s main leverage on the new government. A cut-off would shift the political balance dangerously toward Hamas. ...
My own instincts are on this issue that Obama is not going to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. I don’t think it’s something he at all wants to do.  He will  say he is fearful that cutting of aid could drive the Palestinian people further into the hands of Hamas (not that they aren’t already there, mind you!).

However, the decision regarding US aid may well depend on whether Salam Fayad is kept as the  Prime Minister under the  newand Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Agreement. The US and the Europeans like to deal with Fayyad--he is Westernized. But, Hamas does not want Fayyad to continue in his position as Fayyad is not aligned with Hamas. Mahmoud Abbasa  wants  Fayyad to continue in his position, and is concerned that without Fayyad the US and Europeans may not contineu aid.

In the meantime, while Hamas and Abbas are arguing about him, Fay

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.