Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 February 2006
Issue No. 780
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Shock, horror, democracy at work

The West's reactions to Hamas's electoral triumph reveal terrible gaps in the democracy-versus-terror debate, Serene Assir writes

Hamas in government

Settling the dust

Aid and abet

The enormous contest

The problem is Israel, not Hamas

Fatah comes to terms

Alarm bells in Gaza

A chance to change

Leading from strength

Hamas afresh

Positive for all

Hamas' victory at the polls last week, which led to the resignation in protest of Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and his Fatah-led government, was met with a flurry of reactions by governments and the media across the world. The crux of the conundrum, which was easier for some to solve than others, was the fact that a party listed by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organisation had, in the theoretical world of political ethics, gained its legitimacy by winning a democratic election.

World leaders have since wasted no time in deciding which side of the fence they would occupy. On Monday evening, the United Nations, the US, the EU and Russia demanded that the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority abandon violence or face a total aid cut. Currently, the conglomerate, which authored the Road Map plan known as the Quartet, provides the PA with approximately $1 billion a year. Earlier in the week, after meeting with Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had already announced that the EU would discontinue its funding. Currently, the EU is the PA's largest donor, and it provides $606 million a year.

One of the main clauses stipulated by the EU and the US vis-à-vis entities included on the blacklists is the illegalisation of any financial dealings with any of the persons or organisations in question. Recently, there have been significant moves by influential activists and European statesmen to exclude Hamas from the blacklist, including efforts by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Now that Hamas is in power, however, unless the EU takes Hamas off the list altogether, then by no stretch of the imagination will member states be able -- according to their own rules -- to contribute to the PA.

On the other side of the Atlantic, US President George W Bush had not even waited to see the elections through before he threatened to stop providing the PA with the $400 million of aid it wires each year. In a sense, his initial threat targeted the electorate, not the candidates. Then, on Sunday, he reiterated his stance in an interview with CBS news channel, and said, referring to Hamas' avowed rejection of Israel: "We won't give any help to a government that wants to destroy our friend and ally."

What the funding crisis also successfully exposes, of course, is the ultimate purpose of international aid and peace-making in this troubled region. It takes little understanding of the new world order to perceive that no aid is given out of pity or love, and that political considerations and conditions -- now more than ever -- top the agendas of donor countries.

One only needs to look at the poor levels of aid granted to non-political aid movements working in the occupied territories to gain insight into just how far the West is committed to saving lives. Antonella Notari, press spokeswoman for international committee red cross, was quoted this week in Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung as saying that humanitarian efforts in the Palestinian territories continue to be severely under-funded despite a relatively high media focus on the crisis.

In a reference to additional assistance issued to the Palestinians by USAID, on Sunday US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in London at the start of her latest diplomatic tour that humanitarian aid will only be considered on a "case-by-case" basis.

Israel, by contrast, has been receiving at least $3 billion a year in direct and military aid from the US alone for over 20 years. Indeed, it is common knowledge that it is the world's single largest receiver of US economic assistance. Israel, it seems, remains immune to questions of legality and legitimacy, and it will never make it into either the US' or the EU's blacklists. Never mind the fact that it continues to occupy the West Bank illegally.

Palestinians, on the other hand, no longer merit assistance from the West, despite soaring levels of unemployment and an unheeding economic crisis, for they voted for the wrong guys. Perhaps weighing up the fact that economic assistance was never enough to start with, given the economically-suffocating realities of occupation, and that power-corrupted, villa-inhabiting Fatah officials tended to misuse the bulk of it anyway, the Palestinians realised that it may not make that much of a difference in the long run. At least they have proved themselves capable, under all forms of pressure, to remain loyal to defending their democratic rights rather than sell them for cheap. After all, given the fact that Hamas has, particularly over recent years, provided far more readily available assistance to Palestinian children, mothers, students, and the injured, it only stands to reason that the electorate would choose to vote Fatah out.

And yet, if the Palestinians were isolated as things were under a suave, English-speaking and increasingly media-savvy government, the upcoming era spells trouble. Nevertheless, their reality, unlike that of the West, constitutes a string of political and economic emergencies. It's a shame the Quartet has again failed to understand that the Palestinian, and indeed the Arab, crises will not be resolved via suffocation and threat. Such threats only add legitimacy to the new leaders of a severely deprived, yet democratically free people, and demonstrate the cynicism of so-called aid.

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