At its Sunday morning cabinet meeting did Israel's interim government finally lay out a strategy for contending with the fact that Hamas has taken over the Palestinian Authority? The Israeli and international media reports of the meeting could easily lead a person to think so.
Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. The interim government's decisions Sunday show that the government has no policy for contending with Hamas. The absence of a policy is a result of the government's lack of a basic understanding of – or its unwillingness to understand – the threat the Hamas takeover of the PA poses to Israel.
In declaring that the government had decided to stop all direct transfers of funds to the PA, Sunday's headlines indicated that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his associates have launched a concerted campaign against the Hamas-led PA. But the small print told a different story completely.
Over the objections of the IDF, the government is continuing to allow Palestinians to work in Israel. The government also rejected the IDF's recommendation to cut off all links to Gaza and transform the passages from Gaza to Israel into international border crossings.
Far from working to cut off international funding of the Palestinians, the Olmert government continues to support international funding of non-governmental and UN organizations that operate in the PA; and apparently does so unconditionally.
Finally while Olmert admitted Sunday that the PA has become a "terrorist authority," he and his ministers failed to take any actions – either diplomatically or militarily – that legally arise from this designation.
OLMERT'S opponents, and specifically Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, were quick to criticize the government's decisions. They argued that in acting in such an ambiguous manner, the government ignored the threat Hamas – which is supported by Iran and works in concert with Hizbullah and al-Qaida – poses to Israel's survival.
Responding to those critics Olmert defended his government's contradictory decisions by castigating his detractors as "fear-mongers." Olmert further stated: "There is no reason to terrify the State of Israel by claiming that the sky has fallen."
Olmert and his colleagues justified their limited steps against Hamas by saying that they were motivated by "humanitarian" considerations. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters that Israel wants to prevent a "humanitarian crisis" in the PA. Were such a crisis to unfold, Livni warned, Israel would be blamed for it.
Livni, like Olmert and all other Kadima spokesmen, further maintained that by acting in such a limited manner, the government is safeguarding international support generally, and US support specifically, for Israel's bid to isolate the Hamas-led PA.
PERHAPS THE strongest indication that the Olmert interim government has no idea how to craft national strategies or advance Israel's national interest is the fact that the US Congress and the Bush administration are both taking much clearer stands against Hamas than Israel's government.
Perversely, far from working to build a strong and unambiguous international consensus against the Hamas-ruled PA, the Olmert government is undermining the efforts of Israel's friends in the US Congress. Its contradictory moves toward the Hamas-led PA serve to undercut Israel's supporters in Washington while strengthening the leftist American Jewish groups now working feverishly to scuttle a concerted US response to the Hamas takeover of the PA.
Immediately after the PA election results were announced, US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House of Representative's Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, submitted a bill that updates US policy toward the PA in response to the Hamas takeover. Her bill, which enjoys wide support in both houses of Congress and is backed by AIPAC and other mainstream American Jewish organizations, would not only end all US direct assistance to the PA, it would also bar US support for non-governmental organizations and UN agencies operating in the PA areas that have any links whatsoever to terrorism.
Furthermore, the Ros-Lehtinen bill designates the PA as a terrorist sanctuary. In line with this designation, the legislation bars PA officials from receiving visas to enter the US; bars the PA from having representative offices in the US; and places travel restrictions on PA and PLO representatives to the UN.
Finally, the bill bars US diplomats from having any contact of any kind with members of Palestinian terror groups including Hamas, the Aksa Martyr Brigades, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
AS OPPOSED to other Congressional actions taken against the PA in the past, the proposed legislation does not include a presidential waiver that would allow the administration to ignore the law if the president deemed it necessary for national security reasons. For this reason, the State Department opposes its passage. But even the State Department – which has distinguished itself for over 20 years mainly for its equivocation regarding Palestinian terrorism – has minced no words about its view of the Hamas-led PA.
Last Friday a State Department spokesman publicly demanded that the PA return $50 million in direct US assistance which was transferred to the PA before the elections. For its part, the Olmert government has made no similar demand for the return of the $50 million in tax revenues that it transferred to the PA after the Hamas electoral victory.
As well, on Sunday the US Treasury Department blocked the assets of KindHearts charitable organization. That group, which is based in Toledo, Ohio, was determined to be a terrorist organization because it funds Hamas. According to the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal, since its founding in 2002 KindHearts has raised and transferred some $4 million per year to Hamas.
As the actions of Congress and the Bush administration show, the US continues to define Hamas as a global terrorist organization, and is abiding by US laws regarding terrorist organizations in its dealings with the Hamas-led PA.
In light of this the Olmert government's halting and confused steps against the Hamas-led PA seem all the more ridiculous.
THE ONLY constituency in the US that has galvanized around the Israeli government's incoherent response to Hamas's takeover of the PA is the Jewish American Left.
American Friends for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are all actively lobbying Congress to derail the Ros-Lehtinen bill. As reported in The Jewish Week, these organizations are trying to bring about the defeat of the proposed legislation because, in their view, it will make it impossible for the US to reward "incremental movement [by Hamas] toward abandoning its traditional commitment to destroy Israel."
One of the excuses the government has given for its refusal to take concerted action against the Hamas-led PA is that it wishes to prevent the PA's "collapse." Yet, in an address last week in Washington, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon explained: "We should not fear collapse; the experience of Israel's security operations in recent years shows that Palestinian society will not collapse – as the word is commonly interpreted – even under extreme conditions. Municipalities, for example, continued to operate and provide services even at the height of Israel military actions against the PA."
Ya'alon further explained, "It must be remembered that the Palestinian people elected Hamas with full awareness of its terrorist nature. It is therefore highly important that the international community send a
clear message that terrorism does not pay."
Sadly, Ya'alon's clear and rational statements, which enjoy the support of the US government and the American people and are already codified in US law, are undermined by the Israeli government and by a handful of leftist Jewish American organizations.
Through its ambiguous and contradictory policies toward the PA since the elections, far from acting to forge an international consensus against the Hamas-led PA, the Olmert government is undercutting US resolve to isolate it. In so doing it is strengthening the positions of Russia, Turkey, the Arab League and France, which advocate embracing Hamas as a legitimate political force.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.