Bringing Down Palestinian Democracy

Tank vs Stone-Thrower

It’s not new: whenever an occupied or unjustly governed group of people get the vote, and they make the “wrong” decision (according to their former masters), the vote is nullified. I just never expected to see it played out so clearly as in the case of the Palestinian elections. Particularly galling is the openness with which officials from US and Israel are admitting their interest in overthrowing the elected Hamas-majority government.

On February 14 the New York Times reported that “Israeli officials and Western diplomats” informed the paper that, “the United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again.” The discussions were apparently “being discussed at the highest levels of the State Department and the Israeli government,” according to the Times’s sources.[1]

A “senior Western diplomat” told the paper, “The point is to put this choice on Hamas’s shoulders. If they make the wrong choice, all the options lead in a bad direction.”

Apparently the plan “centers largely on money.”

The Palestinian Authority has a monthly cash deficit of some $60 million to $70 million after it receives between $50 million and $55 million a month from Israel in taxes and customs duties collected by Israeli officials at the borders but owed to the Palestinians.

Israel says it will cut off those payments once Hamas takes power, and put the money in escrow. On top of that, some of the aid that the Palestinians currently receive will be stopped or reduced by the United States and European Union governments, which will be constrained by law or politics from providing money to an authority run by Hamas. The group is listed by Washington and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

…[B]eginning next month, the Palestinian Authority will face a cash deficit of at least $110 million a month, or more than $1 billion a year, which it needs to pay full salaries to its 140,000 employees, who are the breadwinners for at least one-third of the Palestinian population.

The employment figure includes some 58,000 members of the security forces, most of which are affiliated with the defeated Fatah movement.

If a Hamas government is unable to pay workers, import goods, transfer money and receive significant amounts of outside aid, Mr. Abbas, the president, would have the authority to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the officials say, even though that power is not explicit in the Palestinian basic law.

…Hamas gets up to $100,000 a month in cash from abroad, Israel and Western officials say. “But it’s hard to move millions of dollars in suitcases,” a Western official said.[2]

The next day the Times reported that the allegations were denied strenuously at the same high levels that were supposedly involved in the plan. Yes, “they would cut off aid and transfers of tax receipts to a Hamas-led Palestinian government if it did not renounce violence and recognize Israel.” But, “they had no plans to oust such a government.” Not exactly encouraging, since (as the Feb. 14 article noted) the aid cutoff is expected to have that effect.[3]

The denials are largely strategic. Any subsequent US/Israel-friendly Palestinian government must not be seen as a stooge of the West. Rather, as the Feb. 14 article states, “The United States and the European Union in particular want any failure of Hamas in leadership to be judged as Hamas’s failure, not one caused by Israel and the West.”

Another day later (Feb. 16), the Times carried a piece, “Israel Plans Sanctions as Hamas Picks a Prime Minister.” The title conveys the appropriate irony. The Times makes no reference, however, to the contrast between coercive Israeli schemes and a democratic exercise in Palestinian sovereignty.

No element of the leaked “destabilization plan” is missing from the sanctions that the Israeli Defense Ministry is contemplating.

Israel says it will cut off the roughly $50 million it collects in taxes each month on behalf of the Palestinians. In addition, Israel can make it difficult for foreign funds to reach the Palestinians by blocking bank transfers. And the Palestinians use the Israeli shekel for their currency, which gives Israel additional leverage in controlling the Palestinian economy.

In addition, there was discussion of “a series of restrictions” on the mobility of Palestinians in their former homeland. “The measures include preventing Palestinian workers from entering Israel and making it even more difficult for Palestinian and their goods to move between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”[4]

Hey, these are just sanctions. It’s really up to Palestinians to decide how to deal with them, not a conspiracy to force out an elected government. Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said, “we do not want to harm the Palestinian people, and … it is their choice whether to abide by international norms or become a terrorist entity.” Another perspective is that of Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman, who called the leaked plan “a rejection of the democratic process, which the Americans are calling for day and night.”[5]

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