Democratically starving the Palestinians into submission to US and Israeli designs

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Democratically starving the Palestinians into submission to US and Israeli designs
Aref Assaf

It seems that the curse of ‘regime change’ is an American plague. For decades, we have conspired to affect elections, sent in mercenaries to topple off undesired governments, funneled money and imposed economic sanctions to delegitimize popular leaders in favor of our puppets- all invariably failed to promote the strategic interests of the United States, derailed and confused nascent democratic movements, and inflamed anti-American sentiments. According to the New York Times, the United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian Authority, PA, government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.  While the US has officially denied any such plots, one must wonder how much of these desperate attempts are being considered.

Israel is unabashedly preparing for economic sanctions against the Palestinians once the Hamas-led government is inaugurated. ” “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger,” prime ministerial adviser Dov Weisglass was quoted as saying at the meeting by public radio.” (2/16/2006)

Meanwhile, the United States Congress is about to pass a nonbinding resolution which bans direct aid to the Palestinians. This resolution, HR4681, THE PALESTINIAN ANTI-TERRORISM ACT OF 2006, introduced by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Lantos (D-CA),  extends far beyond reaffirming the current US ban on direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority; it also calls for many troubling provisions that would punish and isolate the Palestinian people for exercising their right to vote.  While non-binding, the Resolution portends the strong pro-Israel atmosphere dominating our congress leaving very limited diplomatic options for the President to realize his vision of a two-state solution. This unconstructive approach would only perpetuate the status quo of violence, military occupation, and human rights violations rather than promoting dialogue and a just, peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The provisions include restricting US humanitarian aid; designating Palestinian territory as a “terrorist sanctuary” thus triggering restrictions on US exports; prohibiting official Palestinian diplomacy or representation in the United States in a way counter-productive to promoting dialogue and a just peace; reducing US dues to the United Nations because some of its bodies were created by the UN to advocate for Palestinian human rights; and denying Palestinians the ability to receive assistance through international financial institutions.

The central provision of this resolution would prohibit the United States from providing direct assistance to the PA unless the President certifies that it has fulfilled a long list of subjective and ambiguous conditions.  Current law already prohibits the United States from providing direct assistance to the PA unless the President signs a national security waiver, and in fact, the United States provides no direct assistance to the PA.

One thing is guaranteed, Hamas will emerge more popular with the Palestinian people than ever. The Palestinian people who have survived the 39-year Israeli occupation have learned to do with little. Now, they have made a historic choice by electing Hamas in the cleanest and transparent popular elections. For Israel and US to now conspire to debase Hamas, will only entrench Hamas’s power, demonize our supposed neutrality and forever suspect our evenhandedness.

Instead of meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinian government, the US and Israel can and must do basic things to encourage a more moderate Hamas outlook. Israel should declare its immediate plan to end the 39-year occupation of Arab lands. To accomplish this task, Israel should cease expropriation of Arab land, which is used for Jewish-only illegal settlements, release all political and administrative detainees, respect all signed agreements with the Palestinian Authority, cease extra-judicial assassinations, and ensure freedom of movement for Palestinian within the occupied areas and with the outside world.

For its part, the U.S should respect the democratically elected choice, which brought Hamas into power. The US should continue its financial aid to essential Palestinian projects and institutions. America’s resolve to the spread of democracy is obfuscated when those who seek and begin to practice democracy are burdened with poverty and economic hardships. At any rate, these funds have been channeled directly and without PA’s control, into the Palestinian economy through NGO’s and USAID. the United States Agency for International Development.

To starve the Palestinians into rejecting Hamas will most likely backfire in the face of both the US and Israel. Giving Hamas some space to reconsider its options, and to be tested on its ability to deliver on the promises it made during the elections campaign, will ultimately provide a litmus test for its expected political emancipation. Being the weakest link in the Middle East’s tangled web, the Palestinians can be easily punished, starved and humiliated. But I hope the goal of the United States is not so. Patience, careful and prudent engagement, not sanctions and containment will prove the best way to deal with Hamas.

One thing is certain, the US, as the only world superpower, can significantly impact what and how political maneuverings are played in the Middle East. the US, however, can never foretell the outcome.

 

Background on HR4681

To view the Resolutions; PDF

HR4681, THE PALESTINIAN ANTI-TERRORISM ACT OF 2006, introduced by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Lantos (D-CA).  S.Con.Res.79, which the Senate passed by unanimous consent on Feb. 1 has similar language.

However, this resolution goes far beyond reiterating the current US ban on direct assistance to the PA; it also calls for many troubling provisions that would punish and isolate the Palestinian people for exercising their right to vote, including:

* Restricting humanitarian aid.  Through its military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has de-developed the Palestinian economy by destroying infrastructure and agricultural lands; by inhibiting the development of internal trade through walls, checkpoints, roadblocks, closures, and curfews; and by preventing external trade through border closings.  US humanitarian assistance, overseen by USAID and implemented by certified non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), is not only essential to preventing the complete collapse of the Palestinian economy under these difficult conditions imposed by Israel; it is also morally necessary since the United States supports these Israeli policies through $3 billion of direct military and economic assistance every year.  Even though it contains a waiver for certain humanitarian aid categories, this resolution threatens US assistance to NGO’s in Palestinian territories by putting it in the same category as aid to the PA.         

* Designating Palestinian territory as a “terrorist sanctuary”.  Under the terms of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, this designation would trigger restrictions on US exports to Palestinian territories, effectively gutting the free trade agreement between the United States and the West Bank and Gaza Strip and further crippling the Palestinian economy.

* Prohibiting official Palestinian diplomacy or representation in the United States.  Restricting Palestinian diplomacy in the United States would be counter-productive to efforts to promote dialogue and a just peace, further eroding the claim of the United States to be an “honest broker”. This resolution would deny visas to PA representatives; restrict the movement of Palestinian diplomats at the UN; and shut down the PLO information office in Washington.

* Targeting the UN for supporting Palestinian human rights.  The Palestinians have been denied their human rights through Israeli dispossession and military occupation.  The United Nations has voted by overwhelming majorities to create bodies like the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People to advocate for the realization of unmet Palestinian human rights.  This resolution seeks to defund these bodies by calling on the United States to withhold UN dues in proportion to the percentage of the UN budget that funds these bodies.

* Denying Palestinians the ability to receive assistance through international financial institutions.  The World Bank has been working with the PA to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip since Israel’s unilateral “disengagement” from it in 2005.  Funds are needed urgently to rebuild thousands of homes that Israel destroyed there.  The reconstruction of the Gaza Strip could be in jeopardy if this bill is passed.  It contains a provision instructing the United States, which has a controlling vote at the World Bank, to vote against such funding.