PASSING THE HAT FOR HAMAS
By Micah Halpern
Monday March 13, 2006
Hamas is hurting for money.
It takes a lot more to run a country than it does to run soup kitchens and day care centers. Donor nations once willing and even anxious to support terrorist activities are not at all eager to cover the costs of Palestinian municipal salaries.
And so Hamas finds itself in the rather uncomfortable position of having a country to lead, but no means with which to lead. Digging for dollars won't work - the United States has, at least publicly, sworn off feeding more money into the Palestinian economy as long as it is Hamas-led. Yearning for yen is pointless - the Japanese couldn't care less about the past, present or future of the Palestinians. Shopping, some would say schnoring, for shekels has actually proven somewhat successful - surprise, surprise, and Israel has turned over some tax money to the new government. Digging for dinar is a wasted effort - the Jordanians are adopting a wait and see attitude for now, paying close attention to their neighbor but from a comfortable political and financial distance. Running after rubles might eventually help - the Russians have been wishy washy on the matter.
With no where else to turn, Hamas has appealed to two old friends. And both friends, both Iran and Saudi Arabia, have made promises to help. Iran and Saudi Arabia have promised the Hamas-led Palestinian government that they will pick up the financial slack necessary to run their government. Iran and Saudi Arabia have promised to step in and fill the vacuum created by the dis-investment of the West from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
The proverbial checks - Saudi riyal (SAR) and Iranian rial (IRR) - are in the mail. But Hamas' problems are not nearly over. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both big on promises but very bad on follow through. And neither of these countries has an impressive track record for helping out the Palestinians.
They've given before, surely, but never enough. Last year, when the Palestinian Authority was in severe financial distress, Saudi Arabia helped out with $33 million. Nice, but that hardly comes close to the $1.5 billion with a "b" that the Palestinian government needs to simply pay off their bills this year.
And the coffers are receding rapidly. The PA has already returned $30 million given them by the United States and is about to return another $20 million, money that the United States is demanding back because it was inappropriately used, because it was allocated to improper activities.
Just think about it. The United States Congress passed a law preventing United States funding from going to the Palestinian Authority. And even with that law, the US still managed to give the PA $50 million - almost twice what Saudi Arabia, friend and ally of the Palestinian Authority, gave.
Iran's past investment in Hamas has been bang for the buck. Small sums, paltry sums, money used for stimulating and supporting terror. Focused allocations. Hardly the stuff that underwrites a national budget.
And now Iran has pledged financial assistance - but at what price to Hamas?
Official Iranian representation has just come to the Palestinian Authority. The Supreme Shiite Council has been established by Iran in the city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government. Red flag alert! Why? Because Palestinians are not Shiites, Palestinians are Sunni Muslims.
There is no history of Shiite Islam in the region. Until now Sunnis in the region have always referred to Shiites as heretics and that is by no means a term of endearment.
The reality is that the links between Hamas and Iran are purely political. The links are certainly not religious and even now, despite Iran's pledge, they will not be financial. The strongest link between these two nations is their hatred of Israel. Next comes their shared disdain for the West and everything Western. Other than that, Hamas and Iran have very little to almost nothing in common.
Iran gives nothing for nothing. Iran may be promising Hamas financial aid, but what they are really doing is trying to move the Palestinian people from a Sunni orientation to a Shiite orientation. And there's more. Iran wants support within the Organization of Islamic States (OIS), the group of 57 Muslim countries that broadly unites the Muslim nations of the world. Until now Iran has been a pariah in the OIS and they are hoping that their show of Palestinian sympathy will go a long way with other Muslims in the organization. And for that, they are willing to pay.
But is all this worth it for Hamas?
It is. Here's why: Iran's promise of financial aid was used by Hamas as a fulcrum to try to urge Saudi Arabia to step forward and offer support. Saudi Arabia, like the Palestinian Authority, is Sunni. And it would be a great embarrassment if the Shiites stepped forward and fellow Sunnis were not forthcoming in an effort to help Palestinian Sunnis.
Muslim countries are not accustomed to helping the Palestinians. That has always been the role undertaken by Western nations.
Right now, I doubt that Iran and Saudi Arabia will follow through and truly support the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. They do, they do. They don't, they don't. That whole issue is less of a burning issue for me than this: Will the United States and the West stick to their principles and not give to the PA? Can the United States and the West watch a people and a government, even a Hamas led government, flounder and not reach out with a helping - financial - hand?