Palestinian funds released. Intelligence prevails for now
"Six years ago, in Arafat's day, you told the whole world you had no partner on the Palestinian side. So what's the big deal? All we did was switch the non-partner".
The Israeli government has decided to release tax revenues belonging to the Palestinian Authority(PA), which it had stopped after the Hamas election victory. Israel collects VAT and customs revenue for the PA. The Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom said in an ad published Friday that seizing the funds was "robbery".
It also warned that making ordinary Palestinians suffer for the way they had voted would strengthen Hamas, and push it closer to Iran.
It seems the Israeli government received similar advice from, among others, the Army and security services, which acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was at first reluctant to accept. The defense establishment advised that it would be better for Israel that the Palestinian Authority should continue to function and provide essential public services to its citizens.
Another reason for the expected recommendation is that the money belongs to the Palestinians, reports Ha'aretz. Acting Palestinian Finance Minister wrote a letter to the Israeli government stating that the money would be used to cover existing budget shortfalls and spent in the next few days.
Authority at present remains with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Talks on the establishment of a new cabinet, likely to be headed by Hamas, are expected to take several weeks. The World Bank warned last week that the PA will collapse if not given immediate financial assistance.
Also on Sunday, Israeli forces reopened the Karni crossing with the Gaza Strip which they had closed for more than three weeks. The army had claimed to have information that Palestinian militants had dug a tunnel under the crossing to carry out a bombing. Palestinian security officials found the beginning of a tunnel on their side of Karni, but nothing else. Tons of perishable agricultural produce were destroyed because of the closure, and there were warnings of shortages in the Gaza strip.
A poll of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel since the Hamas victory shows a quite different picture to headlines about Hamas and its charter. Despite dissapointment with a "peace process" that was going nowhere, and Israel's refusal to negotiate, the survey found that 84 percent of Palestinians want a negotiated peace agreement with Israel. What's more, 86 percent said they want the moderate Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas to remain in his post when Hamas forms a new government.
Even among Hamas voters, more than three quarters - 77 per cent - said they would like to see a negotiated settlement. And nearly three quarters of those polled in the survey, carried out by the Ramallah-based Near East Consulting Institute, said Hamas should change its stated aim of eleminating the State of Israel
The poll lends weight to the view that Hamas' electoral gains owed less to its record of encouraging indiscriminate bombings - which it has not launched for a year - than to Israel's intransigance towards more moderate Palestinians, as well as the Islamicists attention to social welfare on the Palestinian street, contrasted with Fatah's reputation for corruption.
Palestinian Attorney General Ahmed Al-Meghani has announced that his office is investigating dozens of corruption cases involving companies with ties to the PA. "I cannot count the numbers because I'm not an accountant. It might be
billions of dollars. ....." Meghani said he has made 25 arrests so far, and issued international warrants for 10 other people who have fled the area. He declined to identify the suspects because the investigation is proceeding, but said the probe included the Palestinian oil, tobacco and broadcasting corporations. He also cited the Middle East Water Pipe Co., a joint venture between the Palestinian and Italian governments. Al-Meghani said $6 million was invested in the project, but the company was never formed.
On the peace front, both Palestinians and Israeli peaceniks have observed wryly that the Israeli government had kept on repeating it had "no partner" for peace when Arafat was alive, and ignored Mahmoud Abbas "the best partner you're likely to get", so what was new about Hamas?
While Palestinians were indicating their readiness for peace, a survey carried out by the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv last week was less encouraging. Only one in six (17.6 per) believed their government should conduct negotiations toward a final settlement with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
This is a big drop after a poll published in Yediot Ahronot before the Palestinian elections showed 48 percent of respondents said Israel should talk to a Hamas-led government. In Monday`s survey, 52.7 percent said Israel should not engage in talks with such an authority.
It could be that the demagogy from Tehran is contributing to people's fears. Right-wing Israeli election contender Benyamin Netanyahu insists on presenting Hamas as an extension of the Iranian regime. Ironic, in that it is widely admitted the Israeli state initially encouraged Hamas to undermine the secular Palestinian nation movement.
But a bigger factor encouraging Israelis to take a hardline stand has been the US and European Union response to Hamas victory, saying they would withold aid. This probably encouraged Olmert's government to think it could halt transfer of funds, which it says it may do again when Hamas enters government. It also encouraged Hamas to say it would strenthen links with Syria and Iran.
In the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace has launched a campaign for aid not to be witheld.
"Tell Your Congressional representatives, the President and the Secretary of State that Americans do not wish to cause innocent Palestinians to suffer because our government is unhappy with the outcome of the Palestinians' democratic election.
"Several bills now pending in Congress call for the withholding of aid in the wake of Hamas' victory in the elections. US funds do not go to the Palestinian Authority but instead provide development assistance, humanitarian aid, and vital support for building democratic institutions in the West Bank and Gaza.
Click here to take action now and send a clear message that Americans won't stand by while Palestinians are punished for exercising their democratic rights."