Game with Hamas
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | February 23, 2006
Is former World Bank
chairman James Wolfensohn making U.S. policy toward Hamas?
I put that question to the State Department after receiving reports about Wolfensohn’s trip in mid-February to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where my sources told me he was soliciting Gulf Arab leaders to finance the new Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority.
After all, on January 29 - just days after the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections - Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice declared that “the United States is not prepared to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence and that refuses its obligations.”
From Capitol Hill to London, Paris, Berlin and Jerusalem, her words sounded crystal clear. Even the Europeans agreed to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, no questions asked.
So what was Wolfensohn doing banging his tin cup with the Gulf Arabs ten days ago? Was it just some kind of pre-retirement personal crisis for an outsized energizer-bunny personality?
Thanks to his prodding, the Saudis announced they were prepared to give a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority $100 million, totally undercutting the U.S. and European effort to “tame” Hamas by cutting the financial pursestrings.
¬Ý“Mr. Wolfensohn is his own man. He always has been,” one State Department official who works with him told me. “We had a pool in the office to see who could guess when he’d make his first visit to the office we gave him here.”
That was eight months ago. Wolfensohn did finally show up in the office a few months later, but he hardly ever uses it and cannot be reached through it. The State Department official assigned to him said he “mostly on the road” or “working out of New York,” but could not be reached to talk to the press.
When Wolfensohn retired from the World Bank last year, he convinced the Bush administration to set him up as the “Quartet Special Envoy for Disengagement.” In principle, this meant that the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations (the “Quartet”) had authorized him to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians to ensure the peaceful hand-over of Israeli assets when the Israelis left Gaza.
Wolfensohn was so convinced of his vision for the future that last August he called friends in the U.S. Jewish community – including real estate magnate and U.S. News & World Report chairman Mortimer B. Zuckerman - to fork out $14 million to buy greenhouses in Gaza from the Israelis settlers who were about to be evicted, and donate them to the Palestinians. (He also put some of his own money at risk, I am told).
Less than one month later, after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, angry Palestinian mobs looted them and pulled most of the greenhouses to the ground, giving the world a foretaste of how successful the dream of peaceful Palestinian development was going to be.
But Wolfensohn is persistent. From protecting new Palestinian assets from the Palestinians, he turned to the real problems: reforming the Palestinian Authority, its endemic corruption, and helping to achieve legal and regulatory reform.
“Then we were faced with the rather surprising result to the [Palestinian] election,” one of his aides told me. “So the issue became what can we do to get the financing needed to make sure the caretaker government can make it.”
But Condi Rice never said the “issue” was funding a caretaker government; it was getting international support for a cut-off in funding to the Palestinian Authority led by Hamas.
“Mr. Wolfensohn’s message during his talks in the region earlier this month was not pre-cleared with the Department,” NEA spokesman Gregg Sullivan said. That is a pretty substantial revelation.
Wolfensohn had long been urging the Gulf Arabs to get more directly involved in funding the Palestinian Authority directly, instead of allowing private individuals and charities to fund Hamas, as they had been doing in the past. The State Department approved those efforts in the hope it would help bring about “a moderate government” in the PA, Sullivan said.
During Wolfensohn’s most recent trip, he asked the Saudis “to start funding of the PA that would be ongoing, sustainable, and that would support the social and political reforms the Palestinians themselves have been calling for.”
Rice has indicated that while the U.S. and Europe have cut all direct funding to the PA, they could continue to fund of Non-governmental organizations to carry out the type of social work that Hamas used to provide.
“We may have to get creative,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t continue to provide funding to the Palestinians.”
That sounds to me like we’re about to get half-pregnant. You can’t defund the Palestinian Authority because it has been taken over by Hamas, and yet fund social welfare programs and development programs that free up money that Hamas and the PA can use for their own purposes, including the recruitment and training of suicide bombers.
The rationale now being proposed by the State Department was picked up by Dr. Eran Lerman in a recent weekly briefing paper circulated by the American Jewish Congress.
While both Israel and the Quartet are wary of helping Hamas, they also fear “starving” the Palestinian people by a total aid cut-off. “There is an acute awareness among Israeli decision-makers, from within the IDF all the way to the highest national level, that for legal, moral, and strategic reasons, this would be a harmful and potentially disastrous outcome,” Lerman writes. Among the potential disasters: increasing radicalization (increasing?) of the Palestinian population, and deeper inroads by Iran.
The goal is “to peel the Hamas government off the people who may have voted for it-but still need to be offered an alternative way to keep their families alive,” by allowing NGOs and aid agencies to provide aid directly to recipients. “After all, Hamas previously did the same to Fatah, by maintaining a parallel structure,” Lerman writes. “We are now called upon to help beat them at their own game.”
James Wolfensohn agreed to float the trial balloon. And through his own flamboyance and unpredictable character, he has given the State Department plausible deniability should the American public get wind of his efforts to allow the Gulf Arabs to fund a Hamas-run terror state in the Palestinian Authority.
It’s a fool’s game, and it doesn’t pass the smell test.
Original article: http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=21420
Kenneth R. Timmerman
President, Middle East Data Project, Inc.
Author: Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran
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