The Israel Report
A Twisted Dynamic(March15) - On his visit here this week, European Union Commissioner Chris Patten sounded mystified. "We understand Israel has security problems. But what on earth does wrecking the Palestinian economy and increasing poverty have to do with security?" The mystery, however, is not Israel's behavior, but why the Palestinian Authority seems bent on self-destruction.
In his meeting with Patten and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explained, "Demanding that Israel transfer the [tax] money to the PA is immoral, because we have no intention of paying money to the people who are killing us."
The European and American leaders who are urging Israel to help save the Palestinian economy do not even bother to argue that Yasser Arafat is doing all he can to fight terrorism - they know full well that he has not even called for an end to the attacks against Israelis. That Israel is defending itself against attacks no Palestinian leader will denounce and most routinely defend is not in dispute.
Europe and the US further understand that the PA is deeply corrupt and therefore is wasting much of the funds that it supposedly desperately needs. As Sharon pointed out, "We shouldn't look at Arafat as someone who cannot pay his wages. They have property worth over a billion dollars all over the world." According to an Israeli official cited in this newspaper yesterday, Sharon's figure was highly conservative: Arafat has actually socked away some $20 billion in assets. Patten himself said that the EU needs to see "real transparency" and "complete anti-corruption" before serious assistance could flow.
But if there is no argument that Israelis are getting shot at and blown up, that the PA is culpable for this attack, and that PA corruption is rampant, why would anyone blame Israel for the Palestinian's economic plight?
In reality, the customs revenue that Israel has collected and withheld from the PA amounts to only about $75 million, while the cost to the Palestinian economy of the attack launched against Israel has been about $850 million.
Like Saddam Hussein crying foul when UN will not lift sanctions, even though he has shown only contempt for the Security Council's disarmament mandates, Arafat is demanding economic relief while continuing to shoot at Israel. The US rightly places the blame squarely on Saddam for Iraq's predicament, yet it will not squarely blame Arafat for the PA's supposedly imminent bankruptcy.
Even if it is assumed that the US and EU are just going through the motions of pressuring Israel and privately understand what Israel is doing, this cynical stance is causing serious harm. So long as the US and EU continue to criticize almost every military or economic measure Israel takes in self-defense, Israel is by implication shares guilt for being attacked. And so long as Israel effectively stands accused, there is no diplomatic cost to the Palestinians for continuing their assault.
There is an even more dangerous consequence of the cynical international complicity in the Palestinian attempt to deny Israel's right of self-defense: the risk of an escalation of the conflict. The Palestinians have already learned that attacking Israel gained them sympathy, while rejecting last summer's Camp David deal brought them pressure. The principle at work here seems to be, the more the Palestinians attack Israel, the more they can divert pressure to compromise on to Israel.
The result of this twisted dynamic is to reward violence and punish negotiated compromise - the exact opposite of what the international community claims to want. Denying Israel's right to self-defense encourages the most radical elements among the Palestinians and within the Arab world.
If this misguided international policy does not change, the fate of the Palestinian economy could be the least of the headaches facing the US and EU.
Ironically, the best way to help the Palestinians would be to support Israel in ending the five-month old mini-war with the minimum force necessary. The countries that care most about the peace process should be at the forefront of denying the Palestinians a military option. The lesson that Israel can be moved by force must be unlearned before any hope for a negotiated solution can be renewed.
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