Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 December 2006
Issue No. 824
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Beyond imagination

Haniyeh does further damage to a forlorn Abbas, scoring major funding from Iran for the Palestinian people, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank

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Holding up a banner that reads in Arabic, "Who is the killer" referring to the assassination of three young siblings Monday in Gaza

While Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is still counting on the US and the EU -- and probably Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as well -- to "strengthen" his position against the Hamas-led government, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has been scoring success after success in his extended tour of a number of Arab and Muslim states in the region.

On Tuesday, Haniyeh wrapped up a three-day visit to Tehran during which he held high-profile meetings with top Iranian officials, including Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The meetings were more than just courteous encounters between heads of an emerging regional superpower and the leader of a beleaguered government that the US and Israel have been hell-bent on scuttling for its refusal to bow to Zionist- colonialist diktat.

In fact, Iran decided to give Haniyeh more than he had ever dreamt of. In the words of one Palestinian observer, the Iranians treated Haniyeh like a second prodigal son (the first being Hizbullah). On Monday, the Palestinian prime minister, who had earlier referred to Iran as "our strategic depth", termed his visit "historical and very, very successful". "We reached our goals on this visit. We found all the love possible to give to the Palestinian people," Haniyeh said during a brief press conference at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran.

Haniyeh's words, while not completely void of rhetorical indulgence, are more or less accurate. The Iranian government, taking advantage of skyrocketing oil prices, pledged to give the Palestinians a generous package of financial assistance, urgently needed given the eight-month-old harsh blockade imposed on the Palestinian people by the US, the EU, as well as a number of Arab regimes.

According to Haniyeh, the Iranian donation will include a direct cash payment to the Palestinian government of approximately $100 million. In addition, Iran will pay the unpaid salaries of employees of three ministries (Labour, Welfare and Culture) as well as six-month stipends to the estimated 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. Iran also agreed to pay for the next six months a stipend of $100 a month to 100,000 Palestinian civil servants and the same for 3,000 Palestinian fishermen.

Furthermore, Iran also agreed to build a cultural centre and rebuild some 1,000 demolished houses at a cost of $10,000 per house. Finally, the Islamic republic agreed to purchase 300 new cars for the Palestinian government and purchase Palestinian olive oil at a special higher premium.

According to Haniyeh, Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, whom he met Sunday, personally approved the financial aid.

In short, Haniyeh's visit to Iran appears successful "beyond even the wildest dreams" of Hamas, as one of Haniyeh's political advisors put it during a telephone interview with Al-Ahram Weekly Tuesday. The unexpected generosity of Shia Iran towards a Sunni Islamist movement should be viewed as a rebuff and direct challenge to American hegemony in the region.

The United States, along with Israel and some Arab regimes such as Jordan, has been trying to strangle the Hamas- led government, employing some of the most draconian and sinister measures yet seen, such as bullying Palestinian and Arab banks to refuse to service the government, including transferring Arab and Muslim aid money from abroad into the impoverished and cash-strapped occupied territories.

This harsh and cruel blockade was aimed at achieving two mains goals: First to induce an implosion inside Palestinian society aimed at triggering a popular revolution against Hamas. This goal has not been reached as most Palestinians continue to blame the US and Israel, not Hamas, for their plight. Indeed, Hamas's popularity has not suffered significantly, evidenced in PA reluctance to hold early general elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as a means of overcoming the crisis.

The second goal was to discourage Islamist or even Islamic experiments elsewhere in the Muslim world by giving the impression that Islamists in power only bring poverty and hardship to the masses.

However, unlike Fatah's leader Abbas, who some Palestinians accuse of adopting a "feed me today, and kill me tomorrow," political modus operandi, Hamas has been successfully manoeuvring itself out of the treacherous minefield of the harsh blockade, adopting another adage: "I will suffer today so that I may live tomorrow."

Haniyeh's success in Tehran is added to earlier achievements during his visit to Qatar last week when Emir Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani pledged to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 Palestinian teachers and if necessary cover payments for workers in the public health sector.

According to Hamas officials, Haniyeh's next destination will be Riyadh where he will undoubtedly press his Saudi hosts to at least match Iranian generosity and "adopt" a number of Palestinian ministries for six months or one year. If the Saudis respond positively, this will be the final nail in the coffin of the American-led, Israeli- enforced blockade.

Indeed, it would be politically and ideologically expedient for the Saudi government, which views itself as the ultimate custodian and guardian of Sunni Islam, to give Haniyeh all the assistance and aid he seeks since rebuffing him would push Hamas (and probably the bulk of Palestinians as well) further towards the Iranian-Syrian-Hizbullah axis.

At a loss with regard to their quagmire in Iraq, and given their conspicuous inability to get Israel to abandon its colonialist schemes, the United States seems unable to present any viable and practical plan that would convince the masses, whether in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt for that matter, to give the "peace process" one last chance.

It is even likely that powerless and frustrated allies like Abbas will sooner rather than later understand the foolishness of counting on the present American administration. One Fatah official close to Abbas this week lamented that Americans "have pushed us to this dismal situation".

"They keep saying they want to strengthen the moderates and strengthen Abbas while at the same time they can't even get Ehud Olmert to remove a single roadblock in the West Bank. So why would our people believe Abbas when he tells them to trust America? At least the Iranians are helping us, while the Americans and Israelis are starving us."

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