One question raised by Hamas’ election victory is whether the United States should continue to fund the Palestinian Authority. The pro-Israel community, with few exceptions, has taken a strong stand against any funding of Hamas. Such funding would almost certainly be used to strengthen those who murder Israelis. Certainly, bailing out the Hamas-led authority would send the wrong message to terror groups.
The United States Congress has taken an active role in this issue. The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act — introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo/San Francisco), among others — will strengthen the ban on direct aid and limit indirect assistance to the Palestinian Authority until the president can certify that the authority is not controlled by a terrorist group and meets a series of other conditions, such as fighting terrorism and recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
It also prohibits official U.S. contact with members of Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas. With very few exceptions, the pro-Israel community has been urging their elected representatives and senators to co-sponsor the bill.
Opponents of this legislation often refer to these as “Palestinian-bashing measures.” Among these are a group of 387 American rabbis who have signed a letter to President Bush demanding that the U.S. government continue aid to the Hamas-controlled government of the Palestinian Authority. This petition has been organized by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. The group’s Web site specifically calls for opposition to the anti-terrorism legislation, something that undermines the work that many individuals in the pro-Israel community are attempting.
While the petition acknowledges many of the problems with Hamas, the text contains many statements that are questionable. The letter points out that the “Palestinians conducted a free, fair and democratic” election. While this statement is true, this fact does nothing to legitimate Hamas. We now have the first terrorist state on Israel’s border, and the method of its birth is irrelevant to the danger that it represents. Further, democracy requires more than an election. Among other features, it requires recognition of the rule of law and renunciation of violence.
The letter claims that “recent polls indicate that the majority of Palestinians remain committed to a peace agreement with Israel.” This is highly questionable. I have seen polls that show the opposite. In fact, the Palestinians have chosen rejectionism after being given Gaza as an initial step in Palestinian sovereignty. (This is reminiscent of the Palestinian rejection of the U.N.’s two-state solution in 1947.) Further, if committed to peace, it is unlikely that they would have elected Hamas, who made the liquidation of Israel a central part of their campaign platform.
The signers of the letter claim that deterioration in the plight of the Palestinians increases support for extremism. This is arguable. The suicidal extremists of 9/11 were motivated not by deprivation but by religious fervor. Further, it is just as likely that such measures, rather than promoting extremism, will lead to a rejection of Hamas.
The petition urges “constructive engagement with the new Palestinian government,” ignoring the question of how one can engage with a government that refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist, refuses to halt terrorist activity, continues to encourage children to volunteer for martyrdom, and promotes a charter that calls for death to all Jews.
Further, the petition signers claim that we are now in a “cease-fire that has allowed for relative calm over the past year.” In fact, there have been numerous attempts to conduct terrorist attacks. It has been the existence of the security barrier and the improved intelligence of the IDF that have resulted in fewer deaths. Hamas has been very forthright about the fact that the ceasefire is a temporary measure, and will never be permanent, as their ultimate goal remains the elimination of the Jewish state.
Those who support giving aid to Hamas argue that the need to govern will lead to moderation. The historical record shows otherwise.
The 1993 Oslo peace accord was based on the thesis that political responsibility would make Arafat and his followers more moderate. Apart from rhetoric, this never happened. Political leaders, including many Jews, believed that there was nothing to fear from Hitler coming to power since the office would moderate him. History shows that tyrants, such as the Taliban, or the current governments of Iran or Sudan, do not give up their ideological zeal once in power.
The petition does add the caveat that there should be “the appropriate conditions to ensure that it does not reach the hands of terrorists.” We have been here before; Arafat’s authority was given large sums intended to help the Palestinian people. But money is fungible, and the cash received by Arafat was used for support of terrorists, as well as sequestered in the bank accounts of several Palestinian leaders. Very little went for health care, education, housing, and the other needs of the Palestinian people. Finally, a recent EU study has shown how difficult it would be to separate essential aid to ordinary Palestinians from financial support to the Hamas-run authority.
The letter writers argue that they are concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. Yet donors always have the right to set conditions for their beneficiaries. Until now, the international community has not demanded that the Palestinians pay a price for their continued use of terror. It is the height of paternalism to continuously bail them out, giving them financial support while they elect governments devoted to genocide.
The Palestinians did not have to vote for Hamas, and Hamas is not forced to continue its murderous policies. The United States should not spend one dime on a government run by terrorists, whose central purpose is the destruction of another nation.
True compassion calls for discouraging the use of terror against innocents. Those who have signed this letter, with the best of intentions, are aiding one side in an ongoing conflict. It is the side that has a romantic relationship with death. I call on the rabbis to reconsider their support for funding Hamas. “Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”
Dr. Lawrence White is a Berkeley physician, writer and bioethicist who serves on the boards of the Judah L. Magnes Museum and the East Bay Jewish Community Relations Council.