A Fool’sGame with Hamas
FrontPageMagazine.com |February 23, 2006
Is former World Bankchairman James Wolfensohn making U.S. policy toward Hamas?
I put that question to the State Department after receiving reportsabout Wolfensohn’s trip in mid-February to Saudi Arabia, theUnited Arab Emirates and Qatar, where my sources told me he wassoliciting Gulf Arab leaders to finance the new Hamas-led governmentin the Palestinian Authority.
After all, on January 29 - just days after the Hamas victory in thePalestinian elections - Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice declaredthat “the United States is not prepared to fund an organizationthat advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence andthat refuses its obligations.”
From Capitol Hill to London, Paris, Berlin and Jerusalem, her wordssounded crystal clear. Even the Europeans agreed to cut off aid tothe Palestinian Authority, no questions asked.
So what was Wolfensohn doing banging his tin cup with the Gulf Arabsten days ago? Was it just some kind of pre-retirement personal crisisfor an outsized energizer-bunny personality?
Thanks to his prodding, the Saudis announced they were prepared togive a Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority $100million, 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 hasbeen,” one State Department official who works with him toldme. “We had a pool in the office to see who could guess when he’dmake his first visit to the office we gave him here.”
That was eight months ago. Wolfensohn did finally show up in theoffice a few months later, but he hardly ever uses it and cannot bereached through it. The State Department official assigned to himsaid he “mostly on the road” or “working out of NewYork,” but could not be reached to talk to the press.
When Wolfensohn retired from the World Bank last year, he convincedthe Bush administration to set him up as the “Quartet SpecialEnvoy for Disengagement.” In principle, this meant that theUnited States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations(the “Quartet”) had authorized him to work with theIsraelis and the Palestinians to ensure the peaceful hand-over ofIsraeli assets when the Israelis left Gaza.
Wolfensohn was so convinced of his vision for the future that lastAugust he called friends in the U.S. Jewish community –including real estate magnate and U.S. News & World Reportchairman Mortimer B. Zuckerman - to fork out $14 million to buygreenhouses in Gaza from the Israelis settlers who were about to beevicted, and donate them to the Palestinians. (He also put some ofhis 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 greenhousesto the ground, giving the world a foretaste of how successful thedream of peaceful Palestinian development was going to be.
But Wolfensohn is persistent. From protecting new Palestinian assetsfrom the Palestinians, he turned to the real problems: reforming thePalestinian Authority, its endemic corruption, and helping to achievelegal and regulatory reform.
“Then we were faced with the rather surprising result to the[Palestinian] election,” one of his aides told me. “Sothe issue became what can we do to get the financing needed to makesure the caretaker government can make it.”
But Condi Rice never said the “issue” was funding acaretaker government; it was getting international support for acut-off in funding to the Palestinian Authority led by Hamas.
“Mr. Wolfensohn’s message during his talks in the regionearlier this month was not pre-cleared with the Department,”NEA spokesman Gregg Sullivan said. That is a pretty substantialrevelation.
Wolfensohn had long been urging the Gulf Arabs to get more directlyinvolved in funding the Palestinian Authority directly, instead ofallowing private individuals and charities to fund Hamas, as they hadbeen doing in the past. The State Department approved those effortsin 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 “tostart funding of the PA that would be ongoing, sustainable, and thatwould support the social and political reforms the Palestiniansthemselves have been calling for.”
Rice has indicated that while the U.S. and Europe have cut all directfunding to the PA, they could continue to fund of Non-governmentalorganizations to carry out the type of social work that Hamas used toprovide.
“We may have to get creative,” Sullivan said. “Itdoesn’t mean we won’t continue to provide funding to thePalestinians.”
That sounds to me like we’re about to get half-pregnant. Youcan’t defund the Palestinian Authority because it has beentaken over by Hamas, and yet fund social welfare programs anddevelopment programs that free up money that Hamas and the PA can usefor their own purposes, including the recruitment and training ofsuicide bombers.
The rationale now being proposed by the State Department was pickedup by Dr. Eran Lerman in a recent weekly briefing paper circulated bythe American Jewish Congress.
While both Israel and the Quartet are wary of helping Hamas, theyalso fear “starving” the Palestinian people by a totalaid cut-off. “There is an acute awareness among Israelidecision-makers, from within the IDF all the way to the highestnational level, that for legal, moral, and strategic reasons, thiswould be a harmful and potentially disastrous outcome,” Lermanwrites. Among the potential disasters: increasing radicalization(increasing?) of the Palestinian population, and deeper inroads byIran.
The goal is “to peel the Hamas government off the people whomay have voted for it-but still need to be offered an alternative wayto keep their families alive,” by allowing NGOs and aidagencies to provide aid directly to recipients. “After all,Hamas previously did the same to Fatah, by maintaining a parallelstructure,” Lerman writes. “We are now called upon tohelp beat them at their own game.”
James Wolfensohn agreed to float the trial balloon. And through hisown flamboyance and unpredictable character, he has given the StateDepartment plausible deniability should the American public get windof his efforts to allow the Gulf Arabs to fund a Hamas-run terrorstate in the Palestinian Authority.
It’s a fool’s game, and it doesn’t pass the smelltest.
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Kenneth R. Timmerman
President, Middle East Data Project, Inc.
Author: Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown withIran
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