Thursday, June 15, 2006

Economy Deteriorates in Palestine; An Opportunity for New Peace Negotiations?

Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar returned yesterday from a 7 country tour with a substantial gift: $20 Million!  The money will bring some relief to the citizens of Gaza. Over 160,000 government workers in Gaza have been without salaries for over 3 months and are literally starving to death. However, there’s no indication that the money was earmarked for the Palestinian people.

The money has now been confiscated by Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential guard, and Palestinian Health Minister, Bassem Naim, has indicated the money will be used to pay salaries. The money was found when Zahar’s 6 suitcases were x-rayed at the Rafah crossing, marking the second time a Hamas official has been caught smuggling funds into the country in as many months.

Past peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis guarantee certain monies will be provided by Israel to Palestine as retribution for the Palestinian loss of land. However, Israel has refused to pay these funds, and has been backed in this decision by the US and the West, until Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

The victims have been the Palestinian people, who, in the absence of salaries and food have now turned to civil war to push the Hamas government to satisfy their human needs. For the second day this week, hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators burst into the parliament building in Ramallah, demanding money to buy food.

"They drink mineral water in here when we can't afford to buy milk for our babies," cried one man inside the chamber. Another protestor shouted, "They are getting fatter while we are getting thinner."

Abbas, PA Chairman and the recognized leader of Fatah and a moderate, has been pushing a referendum to force Hamas to implicitly recognize Israel. But Hamas, whose charger calls for the destruction of Israel, has been unwilling to make that move, and as such has not received any monies from Israel or the West, leaving the Palestinian people in dire straits.

What’s more, there is no plan to alleviate the economic hardships, or if a plan exists it has not been shared with the Palestinian people. The $20M brought into the country represents only a drop in the bucket for the starving Palestinian people, and many are fed up with the Hamas leaders, who are getting paid and are able to eat while their constituents are left hungry.  

"It is the workers' right to ask for their salaries. We know they are facing terrible economic problems. The situation has been going on for four months now," Abd al-Karim said.

The Palestinian MP also blamed the government for not sharing information about its plans with the people.

"The government does not tell the employees or citizens about its plan to face this problem. That is why I say it is the employees' right to demonstrate."

Many of my Israeli friends believe the Palestinian people have brought this on themselves by electing Hamas in the first place. More than one Israeli has told me that, having elected a government that is clearly hostile to Israel, Palestine must experience the ramifications of their actions, and pay the price which, in this case, is starvation.

Perhaps we need to examine the situation from an alternative perspective. First, we need to be honest and recognize that Hamas was elected out of a sincere frustration with the growing strife between Israel and Palestine within the country. The construction of the fence, for many Palestinians, showed the inability for their government to stop Israel from determining their future, and that was unacceptable.

But now these same people have seen how bad the alternative can be, and perhaps this provides Israel with an opportunity to find a peaceful resolution to the 60-year-old conflict.  If we can find a way to work with Abbas towards a resolution that includes feeding the hungry people of Gaza, the Palestinian people would be more open to such a suggestion now than ever before, and might even be willing to disband the Hamas government to achieve such a peace.

I understand the unwillingness to negotiate with Hamas, so long as they call for the destruction of Israel.  However, the members of Hamas are not the victims here; the victims are the people of Palestine, who have done nothing worse than electing a government which offered them some hope of a better future.

I believe its time to explore the situation, and see if a solution is available that will help these people and provide Israel with what it truly desires: a peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian people.

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Posted by Scottage at 9:10 AM / | |