Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Israel Agrees: Time to Call Abbas’s Bluff

Israel Agrees: Time to Call Abbas’s Bluff

Jonathan S. Tobin

For the past 20 years, whenever some Americans have raised the question of whether U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority should be cut off, opponents have always trumped such calls by invoking a single point: the Israelis disagree. Even as the PA flouted its commitments under the Oslo Accords and acted in various ways that ought to, under U.S. law, mandate a halt to American aid, Israel’s various governments have always opposed such action. But in the wake of the PA’s failed attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to recognize their independence and decision to head to the International Criminal Court to further harass Israel, Jerusalem is preparing to ask Congress to finally enforce the law and end the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his corrupt Fatah government. Though the Obama administration disagrees, Congress should do just that.

Why were the Israelis so reluctant to turn off the spigot of American cash to the PA up until now? The answer is that for all of its flaws, every Israeli government has always rightly viewed the PA as a necessary evil. Though under both Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas the Fatah-run Authority has helped foment hatred as well allying itself with terrorists (as it did with its unity pact with Hamas last year), and even financed its own terror groups during the second intifada, it still performed a number of useful tasks. Israel is denounced as an occupier by the world but the PA governs most of the West Bank (not to mention the fact that Hamas-ruled Gaza functions as an independent Palestinian state in all but name). Israel would not wish to have that responsibility thrust upon it. The PA’s massive security forces also provide valuable cooperation for Israel. Moreover, the Israelis also understand that they always need an interlocutor to help keep a lid on the conflict if not to solve it.

It was for those reasons that the Israelis have always sent mixed messages about U.S. aid to the Palestinians. On the one hand, they wanted the Americans to try and hold the Palestinians accountable for their commitments. But whether or not those efforts were successful, they never wanted the plug pulled on the aid for fear of causing the PA to collapse, something that would create a mess that the Israelis would be forced to clean up.

Since all these factors still apply, what could be motivating the Israelis to change their tune?

The key reason is that by blowing up the latest U.S. attempt to negotiate peace with an end run to the UN and its affiliated agencies, the Palestinians have come to believe they can conduct a diplomatic war on Israel with impunity. So long as the PA thinks it can keep receiving the subsidies it gets from the U.S. and the rest of the West without keeping their commitments, there will never be any motivation for them to make peace. Worse than that, if they are not held accountable for a strategy based on perpetual conflict, Abbas and his crew won’t be deterred from further efforts to foment terror against Israelis. Rather than the aid buying a modus vivendi and a low level of violence if not peace, its continuance has had the opposite effect in that the PA thinks it has a blank check to avoid peace and the freedom to carry on the conflict in any manner it chooses.

Throughout the more than 20 years of the PA’s existence, both Israel and the U.S. have treated the PA with kid gloves. Both have at times acquiesced to the whitewashing of PA policies that were not only detrimental to coexistence but also a clear threat to any hope of peace. But the latest Palestinian attempt to isolate Israel has taken this to a new level. If the PA is allowed to not only further isolate Israel internationally but is permitted to use the biased machinery of the ICC to brand it a pariah, it will be setting in motion a series of events that will only lead to more violence.

That is why Israel is withholding the tax revenues it normally passes along to the PA as well as advising Congress to put a halt to its generous aid. In response, Abbas’s aide Saeb Erekat has said the PA may just dissolve itself, ending security cooperation and saddling the Israelis with the unwanted and difficult burden of governing the West Bank. These are serious threats, but Washington should call the PA’s bluff immediately.

The notion that Abbas and his Fatah kleptocracy would simply go home and abandon the huge patronage scheme they have created on the West Bank is absurd. Abbas operates his Ramallah government for the sake of his party and cronies, not for Israel. Power and the ability to skim money from international aid is not a sideline for Fatah; it is their raison d’être. He needs the money he gets from Israel and international donors to keep his organization going. That is why it is reasonable to suppose that if he felt that there was a genuine threat to its existence, he would abandon his UN gambit even if he continued to talk about it for domestic purposes. Moreover, the security cooperation with Israel is as much if not more in Abbas’s interests as it is in that of the Jewish state. He relies on Israel to protect him against threats to his life and his government from Hamas and other terror groups backed by Iran. Without the Israelis, his future isn’t worth a shekel.

Having shown that appeasement of the PA doesn’t work, it’s time for both the U.S. and Israel to put the hammer to Abbas and remind him that the money he gets from American taxpayers comes at a price. While there are many Palestinians who might be willing to send the West Bank up in flames for the purpose of furthering their century-old war on Israel, the corrupt leaders of the PA have other priorities. It’s time for Congress, acting with the support of the Israelis, to remind him of that.