As the second week of the search for the three Israeli teenagers abducted by Hamas terrorists comes to an end, the announcement of the names of two prime suspects in the kidnapping is all that passes for progress in the search. But while these Hamas operatives are still on the loose, the international community is grappling with what it seems to consider a more important problem: how to pay 42,000 Hamas employees in Gaza.
The 42,000 Hamas workers seem to be the big losers in the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement that put an end to Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace initiative. The unity deal was motivated in large measure by the fact that the Islamist group has run out of money due to its break with its former Iranian sponsors and the shutting down of smuggling tunnels to Egypt by the military government in Cairo. They hoped the shortfall would be resolved by going into business with their Fatah rivals in control of the Palestinian Authority. The PA, which is subsidized via aid from the European Union and the United States, was supposed to pay the salaries of the 42,000 Hamas government employees. But since the Fatah-run kleptocracy has also been paying the salaries of the workers that it employed in Gaza since the Hamas coup in 2007, it has now said that it can’t afford to pay both them and the Hamas staff.
This both exposes the corruption at the heart of Palestinian governance and also raises some serious questions about how and why the U.S. can go on in its relationship with the PA.
The fact is Fatah governs the West Bank largely by the traditional Tammany Hall tactic of spreading around the wealth. The roster of Palestinians with government jobs of the no-work and the no-show variety is so vast that estimates vary. But no matter what the actual number is, the point is that Fatah uses foreign aid money to support large numbers of West Bank Palestinians in this manner. Hamas played the same game in Gaza before the cash ran out. Neither group cares much about actually using their funds to provide even basic services for Palestinians. The point of jobs that are in the gift of either Fatah or Hamas is to secure political loyalty and all that it entails when you are dealing with organizations that have both “political” and “military” wings.
That fact doesn’t come across in the latest sympathetic piece about life in Gaza from the New York Times. In it, the paper profiles two Gazans. One, a Fatah supporter, has been living the Palestinian version of La Dolce Vita since 2007 as he collected his full salary without ever doing a day’s work in the last seven years. The other, the Hamas supporter, made peanuts and was actually forced to perform some duties while his friends were in power. But now that they’ve run out of money, he’s been plunged back into poverty. The upshot of all this is that the international community needs to step up and give him his old salary back even though the tiny, though overpopulated Gaza Strip does not need two bloated sets of civil servants.
But what needs to be remembered here is that you can’t really separate what might be dismissed as routine political corruption from the more dangerous and deadly work that other people do for Hamas. The two Hamas members that are being named as suspects in the kidnapping have been missing since the crime occurred. That has led Israeli authorities to the not unreasonable conclusion that it wasn’t a coincidence that a pair of veteran terrorists who operate in the area of the kidnapping just happened to go out for a walk that night and never came home.
The international community, which has refused to shut down aid to the PA after it allied itself with open terrorists even after the kidnapping, may view the plight of the horde of underemployed Palestinian government employees as an entirely separate issue from that of violence. But though foreign governments may think Palestinian graft isn’t something they should care about, they need to understand that money that is donated to pay the out-of-work Hamas guy in Gaza is just as likely to find its way to men like the kidnappers. Money is, after all, fungible. The same applies to funds donated to the PA since it pays salaries and pensions to convicted terrorist murderers sitting in Israeli jails or living in a comfortable retirement after being exchanged for Israeli kidnap victims like Gilad Shalit. Though the PA is attempting to financially squeeze Hamas, as long as the terror group is going to be part of Mahmoud Abbas’s government, the notion that the PA is a legitimate peace partner is a myth.
If the Palestinians are to go on shaking down Western governments for contributions to pay their people for no-work or no-show jobs, they at least need to put a halt to terrorism. Sympathy for Palestinian workers is easy. But so long as the Israeli teenagers remain missing-and with each passing day hope for their safe recovery may be dimming-the West needs to refuse to go on doing business as usual with the corrupt Palestinian bureaucracy that turns a blind eye to, and subsidizes, terror.