Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Funding for Hamas

In February, in the aftermath of the Hamas victory, speaking at the Nixon Center, Shibley Telhami was asked about the efficacy of financial sanctions. He noted:

What about using sanctions to change Hamas ideology and behavior? In the short term, sanctions are likely to harm the poltiical forces most likely to be amenable to the U.S. position--since the police and administration are still largely staffed by Fatah members. Sanctions are more likely to boost Hamas' popularity and Hamas might be able to capitalize on them by increasing its fund-raising among wealthy individuals and non-governmental entities in the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, particularly in the Gulf.

In yesterday's National Review, Michael Krauss and J. Peter Pham showed how this is taking place. Some excerpts:

How does this terrorist group continue operating despite the international boycott? An incident on June 13 involving PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar is telling. The Hamas leader was briefly stopped, but otherwise unhindered, as he transited through the international airport in Cairo with seven suitcases stuffed with an estimated $20 million. At the Rafah crossing-point from Sinai to Gaza, European monitors asked al-Zahar to explain the small fortune in his luggage, but did not detain him when he proved unresponsive. Then Palestinian Force 17 militiamen aligned with Fatah and President Abbas asked him to sign a guarantee that the money would be deposited in the Palestinian exchequer. Al-Zahar told them that he would think about it, then drove off. The foreign minister is the third Hamas official to enter at the Rafah crossing into Gaza carrying large amounts of cash. Last month, a Hamas lawmaker passed through with $4.5 million in banknotes. Before that, a Hamas spokesman brought in $800,000. Not a single dollar of these cash deliveries ever reached official Palestinian national coffers. Rather, Palestinian sources report that the cash covered the wages of Hamas’s militiamen and “security forces” — that is, the hired killers of “one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world today.”

And the provenance of this money? Ironically, given President Bush’s pledge that “those who do business with terror will do no business with the United States,” much of it comes from a country whose princes are regular guests at the Crawford Ranch.

... [L]ast September Israel arrested an Israeli Arab, Yakub Muhamad Yakub Abu Etzev, who played central militant, political, and financing roles for Hamas in coordination with what Israeli authorities described as a “Hamas command in Saudi Arabia.” Until he was arrested, Abu Etzev was in contact via e-mail with senior Hamas officials in Saudi Arabia. According to Israeli authorities, Abu Etzev confessed to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Hamas headquarters in Saudi Arabia as well as instructions, which he passed on to Hamas field operatives. The funds entered the West Bank through human couriers and money changers, often under the cover of dawa (Islamic charity and proselytism work).

Saudi officials insist that then-Crown Prince Abdullah officially withdrew the kingdom’s support for Hamas in early 2002. However, late last year, Saudi television was still running a program on the “jihad” in Palestine that implored viewers to donate funds to the intifada. A caption on the screen informed prospective donors that they could send funds through the “Saudi Committee for Support of the al-Quds Intifada’s Account Ninety-Eight … a joint account at all Saudi banks.” The government-created account continues to fund Palestinian organizations, preeminent among them Hamas.

I bring this issue up because it raises the question about red lines in relationships. Is the continuing support something that should seriously impact the Riyadh-Washington relationship, or will it be one of those areas of "agreeing to disagree" and turning a blind eye? And what message does it send to the Iranians?

It is an interesting question. Britain was forced to tolerate a certain amount of unofficial US support for the IRA for years. Yes the USG opposed and there would even be crackdowns but Irish America was still a major source of revenue and support. London could never leverage something else to get the US to put an end to that support. I wonder whether this is an analagous situation--Hamas is the IRA for Saudi Arabia.
Tough sell to make in Washington of compatibility between IRA and Hamas ...
This fits in to the earlier discussion on this blog about India and about the US seeing Middle East and South Asian states only as clients.

And the US dependence on Saudi oil limits its freedom of action.
I understand peoples concern about funding Hamas whose military branches seem indivisible from its political. Moreover the political branch shows no experience and tact in conducting transparant governance, only aiding suspicion.

But when we think realistically, forget for a second our animosities, our preconceived divisions between good and bad guys, our roadmaps and ask ourselves what will happen now we stopped paying salaries to the palestianian governments law enforcement personnel.

Poverty, disparity and distrust: three words which have a lot more to do with terrorism than islamic fundamentalism.

When a Palestinian who has no other skill than to carry arms is deprived of his income does it matter whether last week he was Fatah or Hamas? Families need to be fed.

Western diplomacy, however, will only prove itself right. By stopping funding, a destability is created in which many palestianians have no other option than to accept money from fundamentalist sources. The prophecy is self-fulfilling. Hamas' term of governance will be remembered as a period of deteroriation of the peace process, if the world does not give it another option.

What are we curators of the peace process or curators of the conflict?
Unfortunately, the above post does not think realistically. Or at least not objectively, as it does not approach a situation without preconceived notions pertaining to "good guys" or "bad guys."

Looking at the situation objectively makes the Hamas government look even worse. Who cares who gives them these huge sums of money, so long as they use it to run the government. But that isn't what they are doing. They say they have no money to pay salaries, that they need Western donations to feed people, but they are hiring new people into the government. They smuggle large sums of money and use it to wage a war while people starve. How can they do this? Because of ideas like the one above which place the blame of starvation on a lack of donations and not the misuse of available funds.

The curators of the conflict are those who perpetuate its existence, not those who refuse to subsidize a governments war by caring for its people so they can buy more guns.
The unilateral withdrawal of Israel from much of the West Bank (a nearly complete withdrawal is probably inevitable in the years ahead) seems to me the more important consequence of recent events. The question for Saudi Arabia is not its covert relations with Hamas but whether the Saudis will overtly recognize the borders of Israel at some point, as they pledged in 2002 to do in return for withdrawal to the 1967 lines, if Israel redraws its borders very close to those of 1967.
David, I think the real question is whether you might have a Saudi official reaction of "cold peace" with Israel in pre-1967 borders but permitting Saudi society to continue the war against Israel.
David, I think the real question is whether you might have a Saudi official reaction of "cold peace" with Israel in pre-1967 borders but permitting Saudi society to continue the war against Israel.
Hamas, just like the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, is being funded by grass-root Sunni Muslims in the countries that are nominally friends of US (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Egypt).
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