Yasir Arafat died last month. This month, his death is prompting plans for a foreign aid bounty of $500 million to $1 billion a year for the Palestinians.
That’s the scoop Steven R. Weisman published in the New York Times on December 17. He revealed that Western, Arab, and other governments plan to add a 50 to 100 percent bonus to the $1 billion a year they already direct to 3.5 million Palestinians in the territories, contingent upon a crackdown on terrorist groups and the holding of credible elections in January 2005.
(Asked about Weisman’s report, White House spokesman Scott McClellan neither confirmed nor denied it. But President George W. Bush did subsequently make some hugely ambitious statements about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: “I am convinced that, during this term, I will manage to bring peace” and “Next year is very important, as it will bring peace.”)
Aid-wise, residents of the West Bank and Gaza have hardly been neglected until now. They receive about $300 per person, making them, per capita, the world’s greatest beneficiaries of foreign aid. Strangely, their efforts to destroy Israel have not inspired efforts to crush this hideous ambition but rather to subsidize it. Money being fungible, foreign aid effectively funds the Palestinians’ bellicose propaganda machine, their arsenal, their army, and their suicide bombers.
This, however, does not faze international aid types. Nigel Roberts, the World Bank’s director for the West Bank and Gaza, blows off past failures. Addressing himself to donors, he says, “Maybe your $1 billion a year hasn’t produced much, but we think there’s a case for doing even more in the next three or four years.”
Roberts is saying, in effect: Yes, your money enabled Arafat’s corruption, jihad ideology, and suicide factories, but those are yesterday’s problems; now, let’s hope the new leadership uses donations for better purposes. Please lavish more funds on it to enhance its prestige and power, then hope for the best.
This la-la-land thinking ignores two wee problems. One concerns the Palestinians’ widespread intent to destroy Israel, as shown by the outpouring of grief for arch-terrorist Arafat at his funeral, the consistent results of opinion research, and the steady supply of would-be jihadists. The Palestinians’ discovery of their inner moderation, to put it mildly, has yet to commence.
The other problem is blaming the past decade’s violence and tyranny exclusively on Arafat, and erroneously assuming that, now freed of him, the Palestinians are eager to reform. Mahmoud Abbas, the new leader, has indeed called for ending terrorism against Israel, but he did so for transparently tactical reasons (it is the wrong thing to do now), not for strategic reasons (it is permanently to be given up), much less for moral ones (it is inherently evil).
Abbas is not a moderate but a pragmatist. Unlike Arafat, consumed by his biography and his demons, Abbas offers a more reasonable figure, one who can more rationally pursue Arafat’s goal of destroying Israel. In this spirit, he has quickly apologized to the Kuwaitis and made up with the Syrians; compared to this, reaching out to the Americans is easy.
But, no less than his mentor Arafat, Abbas remains intent on eliminating Israel. This is evident, for example, from his recent comments insisting that millions of Palestinian “refugees” be permitted to enter Israel so as to overwhelm it demographically; or from his keeping the virulent content of the Palestinian Authority’s media in place.
To give additional money to the Palestinians now, ahead of their undergoing a change of heart and accepting the permanent existence of the Jewish state of Israel, is a terrible mistake, one that numbingly replicates the errors of the 1990s’ Oslo diplomacy. Prematurely rewarding the Palestinians will again delay the timetable of conciliation.
As I have argued for years, money, arms, diplomacy, and recognition for the Palestinians should follow on their having accepted Israel. One sign that this will have happened: when Jews living in Hebron (on the West Bank) need no more security than Arabs living in Nazareth (within Israel).
Until that day of harmony — which I predict is about thirty years off — the outside world should focus not on showering money or other benefits on the Palestinians, but on pushing them relentlessly to accept Israel’s existence.