The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

For Obama, Helping Gaza Is Harder Than It Looks

For Obama, Helping Gaza Is Harder Than It Looks:

"Ignoring those contradictions might be acceptable in furtherance either of the simple moral goal of helping thousands of people in need or, more cynically, in pursuit of the public relations win that might come from being seen to do so. But much of the money pledged in Sharm el-Sheikh may never actually go to helping Palestinians in Gaza at all. At a Paris conference in late 2007, the international community started a pledge drive that eventually totaled $7.7 billion in proposed aid to the Palestinians. By September 2008, only $1.4 billion had gone through to the Palestinian Authority according to French diplomat Pierre Duquesne, thanks to the difficulty of distributing the aid and a failure of donors to actually deliver the promised money.

USAID says it committed $600 million after the Paris donor's conference, including $300 million in budget support to the Palestinian Authority and $184.7 million in refugee assistance. Other countries, especially the Arab donors, did not follow through on their own pledges. With $6 billion in undelivered pledges, the Sharm el-Sheikh summit may simply repurpose the same money pledged a year ago in Paris. And it seems perfectly possible, barring dramatic changes in the Middle East political equation, that a year from now another summit will propose more humanitarian goals, boldly repurposing unused Paris-Sharm el Sheikh money."

These are important points - a lot of money has already been pledged to Palestinians, but not disbursed. The conference has been held under the same basic premise - isolation of Hamas in favor of Fatah - that the whole "West Bank first" policy is based on. Yet, the Egyptian initiative and Palestinian reconciliation talks aimed at creating some kind of National Unity Government would suggest a move away from that scenario. The visits of John Kerry, Javier Solana and Tony Blair to Gaza also suggest a change of attitude towards Hamas - unless they are mere PR.

So what will it be? Full backing for Palestinian reconciliation, with the understanding that this means dealing with at least parts of a Hamas-staffed NUG? Or pretending to want Palestinian reconciliation but acting as if it has no prospects and continuing a failed policy? Does the EU, do the Arabs have to wait for Obama to make up his mind about this? They should make his job easier and change policies unilaterally, Obama is saddled with an AIPAC-controlled Congress and probably can't change the policy even if he wanted to. But others can make it clear that they will no longer slavishly follow the American lead here - America is an obstacle, not a leader, in Israeli-Arab peace.

This does not mean engaging Hamas directly. But at the very least it means clearly, unequivocally, supporting Palestinian reconciliation as the most urgent priority in the next few months and providing some guarantees that the international community would not abandon a NUG because Ismail Haniyeh or some other Hamas leader is a member. You can figure out the money later, for now, will the Quartet continue to back isolating Hamas over Palestinian reconciliation?

Also see: March Lynch is disappointed at Hillary Clinton for behaving like West Bank First is still the plan.

Update: Lynch posts a guest comment by Tamara Wittes, saying there is a big difference about what the US can do with its funding - which ultimately is controlled by Congress - and what it can do diplomatically. I agree, and this is what is referred to above, but I don't get a real sense of clarity from what Hillary Clinton said at Sharm al-Sheikh. Maybe if Clinton wanted to support reconciliation, she should have said so more forthrightly. Nathan Brown also chimed in on the same point.