It turns out that the Palestinians are not doing quite as badly as everyone thinks. The International Herald Tribune reports that the UN will begin an appeal for a record $450 million in aid for the Palestinians. In the same article, however, the reporter, citing acting (Hamas-aligned) Palestinian Minister of Finance Samir Abu ‘Aisha, notes that “European aid to the Palestinians ha[s] increased by 27 percent this year.” This aid, however, is being channelled “directly to Palestinians” (to European NGOs?), something to which Hamas naturally objects. What I found especially interesting is that Hamas is actually downplaying the effect of the international "blockade" imposed on it.
According to the article,
while the U.N. emphasized the Palestinians' economic distress, the Palestinian finance minister played it down Wednesday, saying the boycott had failed to bankrupt the Hamas-led government.Hamas itself has managed to get its hands on more money the old-fashioned way: Abu ‘Aisha boasts that $60.5 million in cash have been carried into the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
Samir Abu Aisha, the acting Palestinian finance minister and a Hamas official, said his government has managed to remain fiscally afloat because Arab and European countries increased their donations to the Palestinians after the Hamas victory.
So, who has a more accurate picture of the economic situation in the Palestinian Authority areas: The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, whose head, David Shearer, says that "Coming on top of the problems with access of movement, (the economic boycott) has had a massive impact on poverty levels within the West Bank and Gaza," or Abu ‘Aisha, who downplays the economic crisis and blames Israel’s seizure of Palestinian tax revenues for some financial hardship?
I think that the UN and the international community is being played or confused in a certain sense, and it’s not only Hamas who is manipulating them. Shearer highlights the fact that, "about a million people who have depended on a PA salary earner cannot do that anymore." Several weeks ago, there were a number of stories in Ha‘aretz and in the New York Times about the plight of Palestinian teachers and civil servants who were no longer getting their salaries and had gone on strike because of the embargo. The Hamas finance minister essentially refutes all these claims. He argues that all of these groups continue to be on strike not because they are not getting paid, but for political reasons, namely their opposition, as Fateh-members, to Hamas.
The lesson of all of these mixed messages is that EU donors must remain vigilant and consistent and ignore hysterical calls (from their chattering classes and other quarters) to re-instate aid to Hamas. Until the demands formulated by western donors, who have called on Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past peace agreements, are not met, every effort should be made to keep Hamas from getting its hands on more money.
In other news, trade in all kinds of goods continues between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As a trade consultant, I regularly monitor the Israel Customs Authority website. Today, I came across this interesting tidbit:
ט"ו כסלו, תשס"ז
6 דצמבר, 2006
תפיסת חשיש במעבר קרני לעזה
במהלך בדיקות טובין, שביצעו חוקרי יחידת הסמים של רשות המיסים במעבר קרני, נבדקה משאית שהובילה תרופות שונות מיו"ש לעזה.
חשדם של החוקרים עלה כאשר בתא הנהג של המשאית נמצאו במהלך הבקורת 4 קרטונים של חטיפים.
מבדיקה שערכו החוקרים נמצא שלקרטונים יש תחתית כפולה ובתוכה הוסלקו 20 חבילות של חומר החשוד כסם מסוג חשיש במשקל כולל של 2 ק"ג.
נהג המשאית ובעל החברה של החשוד נחקרו והועברו, יחד עם החומר החשוד כסם, למשטרת ישראל להמשך חקירה ומעצר.
המשאית נתפסה עד לסיום החקירה.