Friday, August 22, 2008


Shortly after the citizens of the Israeli town of Sderot suffered another rocket attack from Hamas-controlled Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered all border crossings between Israel and Gaza closed. At the same time, also on Mr. Barak’s orders, a Brink’s armored car carrying NIS 72 million in cash ($20 million), delivered its load at the Erez crossing to a similarly secure vehicle of a Palestinian bank in Gaza. The minister’s spokesperson contended on Aug. 14 that the money- transfer issue is “separate from the rocket attack and closing of the crossings.” The spokesperson added that the cash - Palestinian tax money withheld by Israel - was sent to replenish the reserves in Gaza’s banks following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ request to pay Fatah-loyal Palestinian Authority (PA) employees in Gaza, before Sept. 1, the beginning of Ramadan. This was the second cash transfer in two weeks.

Israel Security Agency chief Yuval Diskin’s warning that Hamas is using the so-called “cease-fire” to improve and increase its armaments was ignored. Not surprisingly, on Aug. 15, Hamas’ Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) unveiled their latest rocket, the “Nasser-4.” This longer-range rocket can reach Israel’s main cargo port, Ashdod, and even Beersheba, Israel’s largest southern city. With these improved rockets, Hamas now threatens the lives of 500,000 Israelis.

Israel’s response was yet another meek protest that Hamas violates its agreements. “The cease-fire … was very specific that the Hamas movement and the other terrorist groups can’t use it as a period to import more weapons, more explosives, more rockets into the Gaza Strip,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Israel reserves “the right to act, if need be, to protect ourselves,” he added.

Mr. Olmert’s government is under growing American pressure to fulfill all of the requests made by Mr. Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The fiction is that helping the leaders of the “moderate” Fatah would help that organization prevail over Hamas, which took control over the Gaza Strip after the Israeli withdrawal three years ago. These last three years served Hamas well. It consolidated its political power and increased its military capabilities, with more than 222 tons of ammunition, 10 million bullets and hundreds of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), all smuggled into the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula.

But the Defense Ministry insisted that the cash was sent to strengthen Mr. Abbas’ influence in the Gaza Strip, after Hamas deliberately withdrew most shekels from the banks. This created a severe shortage in cash needed to pay the salaries of the PA employees. But if the goal was to strengthen Mr. Abbas’ position, the cash should have been delivered to him in the West Bank city of Ramallah. From there he could have transferred the money to Gaza, as he has done in the past, and claim credit for it. How many Hamas-controlled PA employees are loyal to Mr. Abbas, the ministry spokesperson could not say. Among those employees, however, are Ismail Haniya, the Hamas-appointed prime minister in Gaza, and Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas’ foreign minister. Mr. Zahar prides himself for many successful terrorist attacks against Israel, and his position regarding Israel is clear: “All of Palestine. Every inch of Palestine belongs to the Muslims.”

Yet the Israelis relied on Mr. Fayyad’s promise that the money will not reach Hamas or be used for any terrorist activity - even though he has little control over PA funds in the Fatah-controlled West Bank, let alone Hamas-controlled Gaza. Not long ago, Mr. Fayyad himself stated (and not for the first time) that controlling Palestinian finances, “is virtually impossible.” Besides, promises by Fatah leaders to stop funds for Hamas are doubtful at best. Despite Fatah-Hamas disagreements, the PA’s Fatah-led government announced Jan. 15, its intentions to give Hamas “40 percent” ($3.1 billion) of the $7.4 billion pledged in December 2007 by international donors.

While the donors seem reluctant to fund the terrorist organization Hamas, the hapless Israeli government seems incapable of sustaining a coherent policy to isolate Gaza’s terrorists. Instead, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s upcoming visit, the Israeli government seems eager to fulfill yet another hazardous U.S. “Middle East peace” plan. As if the above-mentioned $20 million in cash to Gaza was not enough, on Aug. 19, in violation of its own laws (which prohibit funds to the terrorist organization Hamas), Israel transferred an additional NIS 3 million (approximately $800,000) in cash to the Gaza Strip. The second transfer was allegedly made to replace worn-out notes, in order to prevent Hamas “from establishing an independent currency.” Incredibly, while maintaining that “Hamas-ruled Gaza is the main obstacle in the Palestinians’ efforts to secure their own state,” the Israeli government keeps sending cash to sustain its sworn enemy.

Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy.

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