Monday, March 26, 2007

One year ago, the United States and the European Union decided to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after Palestinians elected Hamas, a U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist organization, to lead their government. Now, it turns out, Western sources, including the U.S. government, have actually put more money into the West Bank and Gaza since Hamas took over than in previous years.

What happened to Western resolve not to legitimate a bloodthirsty gang of pseudo-politicians who are committed to wiping Israel off the map?

In 2005, the U.S. gave about $400 million in aid to Palestinians directly and indirectly through United Nations refugee agencies, according to recent press reports. In 2006, that amount went up to $468 million. And the EU and its member countries gave Palestinians about $916 million in 2006, not counting what they gave through U.N. agencies, up from $711 million in 2005.

U.S. and European officials claim that the increases don’t constitute support for the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority since the aid goes directly to individuals or is distributed by international organizations and aid groups.

The idea behind the Western embargo of the PA was that Hamas’ support among Palestinians would fall if the Islamist political party couldn’t deliver services. Some Western governments also hoped that a cut-off in aid — without which the PA cannot effectively operate — would pressure Hamas leaders to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

But some cautioned that an aid embargo would backfire if the suffering of the Palestinian people increased — so the U.S. and the EU began funneling money through international agencies and private aid groups.

The policy hasn’t worked. Hamas is no less militant or violent than ever. Much of the violence recently has been aimed at fighting the rival Fatah movement, which has resulted in more than 100 Palestinian deaths in Gaza since December.

And despite the recent agreement on a unity government between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas leaders remain committed to eliminating the state of Israel, which the group not only doesn’t recognize but can’t even bear to name.

In a speech to Palestinian lawmakers last weekend, Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, reiterated that “resistance in all its forms, including popular resistance against the occupation, is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people.” In the past, Haniya has talked about the importance of “confronting the occupation,” just another way of saying Hamas believes in killing Israelis, including civilians.

But what about the Palestinian people? Have they been helped by the estimated $1.2 billion in aid the U.N. and International Monetary Fund say they received in 2006? Are they more likely to embrace peace and renounce violence? Are their lives better with more aid flowing in from international organizations?

In fact, the evidence suggests all our millions have done is to further impoverish Palestinians, turning them into ever more helpless dependents, whose likely response to our largess will be to despise us further. Palestinian gross domestic product went down by 6.6 percent in 2006, while poverty rose by 30 percent and more than 1 in 3 Palestinians were unemployed.

When have handouts ever worked? In the United States, we learned that welfare for our own citizens not only turned into a debilitating crutch, it created a more or less permanent underclass.

At least American welfare recipients weren’t using the cash and their free time to build bombs to blow up their neighbors. The same can’t be said for the Palestinians who have received Western aid. Israelis found a bomb-making factory in the West Bank town of Nablus just last month.

The Palestinians will never have a better life if they continue their destructive, self-defeating hatred of the Jewish state and its people. Palestinians have developed a culture built on hate. Until they learn to devote their energies into helping themselves rather than tearing down each other and their neighbors, we should not spend one more dime on aid.

Linda Chavez is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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