Commentary on U.S. Middle East Policy
Slap in the Face
The complete details of the US aid package to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority show that Congress is giving only $139.5 million to the Palestinian Authority and not the full $200 million requested by President Bush. And it’s not really going to the Palestinian Authority itself, but rather to USAID approved non-governmental organizations, since Congress is loath to deal with the Palestinian Authority. Clearly, AIPAC’s and Tom Delay’s hysteria about a Palestinian state has resulted in this rebuke to a people that, only three months earlier, Congress had congratulated for carrying out a successful democratic election.
This aid package was only part of the $350 million aid that President Bush promised Abbas in his State of the Union address last February. It was designed to provide Abbas with the financial wherewithal to carry out “reforms” and provide economic revitalization – and hope – for ordinary Palestinians after years of devastating occupation by the Israelis. By strengthening his hand, the Palestinian Authority might parry favorably with Hamas in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections.
According to the text of the Supplemental, the $200 million aid package is divided up as follows:
The $60.5 million NOT going to the Palestinians is divided up as follows: $50 million to the Israelis to construct “state-of-the-art” checkpoints along the border with “Palestine”; $5 million to audit the Palestinian Authority accounts; $2 million for Hadassah Hospital, and $3.5 million to the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem.
The budget language coming out of the conference committee (which the full Congress then votes on) refers to the $50 million for the checkpoints as a way of helping “ease the movement of Palestinian people and goods in and out of Israel.” It also reveals their members’ sophistic, serpentine (and far from considerate) reasoning: “The conferees are aware that infrastructure will be needed on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the separation lines and intend that these funds be used to meet the great need in developing this infrastructure. The resulting flow of goods and people should greatly improve the economic well-being of the Palestinian people while building the revenue base of the Palestinian Authority.”
But who is kidding whom? The $50 million, which the Israelis had been angling for since the beginning of the year, would strengthen their control over the border crossings – and it is very unclear where those checkpoints might be located – on the “Green Line” or on the border established by the illegal Wall? Isn’t the logic of the “separation lines” to keep Palestinians out rather than encourage them in? In any event, the “Road Map,” still backed by the Bush Administration, calls for the complete removal of all checkpoints.
The funding act’s reporting requirements are also highly restrictive, unnecessarily onerous and unfriendly. In two months’ time, President Bush is expected to provide a report on how Abbas has purged his security forces of “terrorists”; what specific steps he has taken to “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure” while cooperating with Israel’s security services; an end to “incitement” against Israel in the media, schools, mosques, and other institutions; how he has cooperated with the US investigation into Yasser Arafat’s finances; and how he has provided information on what assistance has been pledged and received from other sources.
Is it not time to lay Arafat to rest once and for all?
Five million dollars are set aside for an audit of Palestinian Authority accounting procedures and expenditures. Only “internationally recognized accounting firms” can be used, meaning one of the Big Five. None of those firms, you may rest assured, are Palestinian.
Hadassah Hospital, which has two facilities in Jerusalem, is known for treating Israeli victims of terrorist attacks, but in recent years has also treated Palestinians, according to the Israelinsider website and BBC reports. Palestinian doctors are known to work there side-by-side with Israeli doctors. Since Hadassah is the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, how does it qualify for Palestinian aid? Hadassah has a powerful network of friends on Capitol Hill, and Ori Nir in the Forward claims that the head of the Hadassah Washington office managed to drop the right word into the ear of Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia and one of Israel’s closest Congressional agents, who saw that the hospital was included in a funding bill. Why couldn’t he have seen that the $2 million was cut out of the annual Israeli economic aid package?
One Palestinian institution did very well on its own. The Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem, the largest maternity hospital in the West Bank, run by the Knights of Malta and the Sisters of Charity, received $3.5 million. Significantly, it has a fundraising office in Washington. Whose ear did its director manage to get?
The slap on the face of Mahmoud Abbas is obvious. The downsizing of Bush’s request, which M. J. Rosenberg in a column on the Israel Policy Forum website called “frittering it all away,” leads rightfully to Rosenberg’s conclusion: “It is hard to know what the House and Senate were thinking. Rather than viewing Palestinian aid as a way of shoring up Abbas against Hamas, they went out of their way to cut the rug out from under him. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with putting conditions on foreign aid (why not?), or providing for independent audits of aid recipients – but why would Congress attach more conditions on aid to Abbas than it did on aid to Arafat?”
As Edward Abington, the Palestinian Authority consultant said (as reported by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post, May 5, 2005) in reaction to Congressional move, “The Palestinians will not see this money for months and months.”
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