Saturday, December 23, 2006

Israel Releases $100 Million to Palestinian Authority

Prime Minister Ohlmert of Israel met with Palestinian Authority President Abbas today and worked out a deal that will have Israel releasing $100 million in taxes withheld from the Palestinian government since Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinian Authority earlier this year.

According to news reports the money is to be administrated by Abbas and, supposedly, Fatah to pay the back salaries of thousands of government workers. None of the money is supposed to be trasferred into the control of Hamas. Israel also agreed to allow greater cross-border access for trade goods.

I'm not so sure what is in this for Israel. It all sounds good for the Palestinian side.

I suppose that the intent is to make Abbas look like a winner for the Palestinian people and cast an even darker shadow on Hamas, whose control of government has strangled all international funding and whose kidnapping of an Israeli soldier continues to keep the gulf between them and Israel as wide as possible.

I'm not convinced that having Israel's "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" will enhance Abbas' image in the Palestinian community. They frequently execute people accused of being Israeli spies for far less cosier ties to Israel than Abbas had today!

I'm also not convinced that Hamas will not, in many ways, benefit from this deal. They will have more time to hang onto power now that workers will be receive at least some pay. They will also have fewer payments to make to supporters (since some of their supporters will be paid with the tax money) and have more left over for the purchase of more arms from Iran et co.

We also must not forget that, before the Palestinian election, it was Fatah that was considered to be the most corrupt political party in the Middle East. I can't believe that much has changed in this matter. Not to mention that the terrorist al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade is a military arm of Fatah and has fought against joining in with the recent "cease fire" agreements made with Israel.

This is a risky business that Israel is engaging in, harkening back to past dealings with Yasser Arafat, not because he was trustworthy, but because he was better than the alternatives.

My gut level feeling is that any dealing with any of the political leaders in the Palestinian government will come back to bite Israel. Abbas may be able to bite less savagely than Hamas but the biting will hurt Israel nonetheless, I have no doubt.

So, I return to my original question: "What is in this deal for Israel?"

Personally, I can't see it.