Monday, April 10, 2006

Policy for Disaster?

As Israeli artillery sends their rounds into Gaza in respons to recent rocket attacks, the foreign ministers of the European Union meet in Luxembourg to discuss what to do with aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

There is a deep irony with what is now happening around Gaza. This is how the situation is described by Israeli security officials at the moment:

"Hamas is close to a decision on initial steps aimed at restraining the terror organizations that are launching Qassam rockets at Israeli targets, Israeli security officials said yesterday.The planned Hamas move comes on the backdrop of an Israeli military response that has killed more than a dozen Palestinians in Gaza since Friday."

"The Qassam attacks on Israeli targets over the last week have been carried out by various Fatah groups. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Hamas-supported Popular Resistance Committees have not been participating in the rocket fire, the security sources said."

Suddenly we have a situation in which Hamas is trying to stop attacks against Israel, while it is Fatah-affiliated groups that are continuing them.

Still, the European Commission on Friday decided to suspend all payments to the PA. Israel has previously decided not to give the PA the tx income that rightly is theirs. And on Sunday Norway decided to follow the European lead and stop all payments.

If carried through fully this policy will lead to an economic and social meltdown in the occupied territories. Different forms of humanitarian aid will simply not be able to compensate for the collapse of the public authorities and their services.

The political consequences of such a meltdown are of course highly uncertain, but the chance that it will lead to popular opinion loving Israel and the Western world more is, to put it mildly, not too large. In all probability, the contrary will be the case.

We might well be fuelling precisely those sentiments in the occupied territories and in the Arab world that we instead should seek to marginalize.

It would be far better to have a more graduated response that awaits and judges the policies actually carried out by the Hamas-lead government. With such a policy we would also retain leverage and influence over the process. At the moment there is a serious risk that we are shooting ourselves in the foot also by taking away our leverage.

To me it all seems rather ill-considered and short-sighted.

I can understand that the European Commission took a more precautionary position on Friday awaiting the final word from the Council of Ministers today. And in that situation Norway probably didn't have much of a choice in taking its decision.

But to do nothing more than this would be a stupidity.

We have enough of problems in the Middle East not to be interested in creating additional ones.