Oxfam, the prominent British relief organization, is appealing to Western governments to end sanctions against the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government, despite Hamas's escalating rhetoric, involvement in terror operations and preparations for broader military confrontation with Israel.
In an April 13, 2007 press release, Oxfam executive director Jeremy Hobbs stated:
International aid should be provided impartially on the basis of need, not as a political tool to change the policies of a government...
But Hobbs' statement is disingenuous. The Palestinians receive vastly disproportionate amounts of aid in comparison to far more desperate peoples in Africa and Asia. This reflects the extraordinary amount of attention given to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in comparison to more expansive conflicts in other regions.
According to the World Bank and Oxfam's own figures, aid to the Palestinians in 2006 actually increased by 20% over the prior year and funds directed to the PA doubled. But Adam Leach, Oxfam's Middle East director, argues the aid is not being handled efficiently through the current arrangement wherein money is funneled to the office of President Abbas and aid groups rather than to the Hamas-controlled government ministries ("The World," Feb. 7, 2007).
Advocating funds for Hamas denotes a willingness to deal with and recognize a government driven by anti-Semitic ideology and aspirations to destroy Israel. Oxfam skirts this critical issue, focusing only on the West's and Israel's alleged responsibility for Palestinian misery, stating:
[T]he suspension of Western aid and Israel's refusal to transfer money owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) has led to grave humanitarian consequences for Palestinians...
Hobbs bemoans the failure of Europe's foreign ministers to restore the faith of the Palestinians in the European Union and accuses Israel and the Western governments of committing a "violation of international agreements" by withholding aid and suspending tax revenue collections." Yet, he fails to acknowledge the bad faith shown by the Palestinians, who have squandered the largesse provided to them.
Why Have Living Conditions Deteriorated?
The report cites statistics to illustrate the Palestinians' difficult fiscal situation, but does not explain why the billions of dollars given to the Palestinians over the past decade have produced so little. Despite receiving more humanitarian aid per capita than any other people in the world, Palestinians living conditions have deteriorated. The aid has fostered endemic corruption, a culture of dependency and a sense of entitlement. James Prince, an advisor to the Palestine Investment Fund remarked in The San Francisco Chronicle, "Many of the donor programs have not only been ineffective, they have harmed the economy...Cash is not the issue. What you need is investor confidence." In this same article, George Abed, President of the Palestine Monetary Fund also emphasizes investment and building a modern system to handle the existing funds rather than simply pouring in more funds.
The most egregious failing of the report is the unproven assumption that aid provided to Hamas will be used to more effectively alleviate Palestinian poverty. Oxfam fails to address evidence that the Hamas government's main priority is continuation of conflict with Israel, not raising the standard of living of its citizens. By narrowly focusing on illusory aid reductions and alleged inefficiencies in aid distribution, Oxfam skirts the larger issue of the choice by Palestinians to sacrifice economic development in order to perpetuate their opposition to Israel.
How Is the Money Going to be Used?
One might expect that Hamas's failure to moderate its extreme rhetoric would give Oxfam pause, especially when this rhetoric is translated into action, as evidenced by its recent foiled attempt to infiltrate into Israel a truck with 100 kg of explosives in order to launch a massive suicide bombing attack. (Ynet, April 10, 2007)
Oxfam does not address how Hamas has used its scarce resources since taking over the government. A World Bank report released on March 7, 2007 notes that despite the acute financial crisis in the first quarter of 2006, the Hamas-led Palestinian government added 6,800 new "security forces." Hamas's "executive force" has since grown to 10,000 (New York Times, April 1, 2007).
The Times describes Hamas's efforts to build an extensive network of tunnels and underground bunkers in preparation for future operations. Israeli military sources mention increased numbers of Palestinians sent to train in Iran. A recent article in Haaretz describes how Hamas partners with smaller terrorist groups like Islamic Jihad (April 13, 2007).
Israel's Foreign Ministry published on Nov. 21, 2006 a list of arms purchases by the Hamas government which included the following:
33 tons of military-grade high explosives
20,000 assault rifles
6,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition
38 long-range Kassam missiles
12 shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft guided missiles
95 anti-tank rocket launchers
410 anti-tank rockets
20 precision-guided Anti-Tank Missiles
On Feb. 16, 2007, the Interfax news agency reported on comments by the Chief of Russian Armed Forces General Staff, Yury Baluyevsky concerning discussions with Hamas about weapons sales.
According to Middle East News Line on March 26, the Palestinians have developed a new cannon to enhance their ability to bombard Israeli communities.
Despite the ominous signs that Hamas is intent on fomenting conflict rather than addressing Palestinian hardship, the BBC and the Guardian publicized the Oxfam report and Hobbs' comments but avoided critical analysis of their recommendations. The recent vote by the British Union of Journalists to boycott Israeli products, similar to what Oxfam's Belgian branch itself advocated in 2003, suggests that a substantial segment of the British media are so enamored of the Palestinian cause that the risks entailed in Oxfam's appeal will not undergo serious scrutiny.