Monday, 2 March 2009

Bribing your way to peace?

News tonight that Hillary Clinton is attempting to win the favour of moderate Palestinian group Fatah and to sideline Hamas to the tune of almost $1bn is interesting.

Since being appointed Secretary of State by the new US President Barack Obama, Clinton has not yet strayed into the minefield of the Middle-East. The money is in the form of aid to Gaza for the purpose of re-building, and is conditional on the grounds that Hamas have no involvement in the spending of the money. Gaza saw a serious amount of infrastructural damage in the recent conflict, and the money is no doubt needed, but is essentially trying to bribe your will onto the Middle East either possible or wise?

Washington wants the money to bolster Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority, which Hamas evicted from the Gaza Strip in 2007. In this sense, it is possible that the money may well enable Fatah to take control of the region’s reconstruction, but only if Hamas let it.

Who is to say that Hamas, who showed massive disregard for the lives of its citizens, continuing to shell Israel when the Israeli tanks were sitting at their gates, will suddenly undergo a change of heart and will have the best interests of its citizens in mind? Hamas will be perfectly happy to sit there in spite and let other, neutral aid organisations clear up the mess.

While the humanitarian groups will tend to focus on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza more than the reconstruction, with the amount of coverage that the region has had, it is impossible to think that no-one will consider investing in its redevelopment unconditionally. Essentially, if Hamas can function without having to ask for money to rebuild itself in Gaza (we have no idea whether Hezbollah are able to help them out), then the people in Gaza have no chance of seeing the money.

Secondly, is it wise? On the surface, winning the favour of one group of people by helping instil them in power can only be a good thing. But will helping any Palestinians go down well with Israel, especially following the recent election results?

What is potentially more damaging is that this action will send the message to other potential allies of the US in the Middle East that, if they can successfully have a more-evil alternative, then they are likely to get funding to aid them to success. This sets an unhelpful precedent.

Clinton’s first serious move on the international stage is both an unprompted and a reckless one, and runs the risk of being totally ineffectual. Only time will tell whether her boldness pays off.

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