by Hugh Fitzgerald
The relentless war on Israel by Hamas is being answered by the Trump Administration with a relentless war of its own on funding for that terrorist group. That includes a refusal by the Americans to supply Gaza – that is, Hamas – with money to fight the coronavirus. After all, cash intended by donors for PPE (masks, gowns, gloves) and ventilators can be diverted to pay for rockets and terror tunnels.
The latest installment in this campaign to cut funding for Hamas appeared in the New York Post:
The United States Agency for International Development has moved to aggressively block the distribution of coronavirus relief funds to the entire Gaza strip over concerns the money could fall into the hands of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
No doubt Hamas thought the coronavirus pandemic would make it hard for the Trump Administration to refuse to give aid to Gaza – which today is the same thing as giving aid to Hamas, the terror group that controls every aspect of life in the Strip. But Hamas was wrong.
“The Trump administration is not supporting assistance to Gaza,” a senior administration official with knowledge of USAID plans told The Post. “There is a Hamas government in Gaza. They have indicated no interest in engaging with us, no interest in peace with Israel and in fact they continue — despite having coronavirus cases in Gaza — to fire rockets at the Israelis on a regular basis.”
The issue of Gaza funding came to the fore internally after the United States pledged $5 million to help Palestinian relief services in their fight against the deadly pandemic.
“I’m very pleased the USA is providing $5M for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19. The USA, as the world’s top humanitarian aid donor, is committed to assisting the Palestinian people, & others worldwide, in this crisis,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman announced in an April 16 tweet.
The plan currently calls for USAID to distribute the funds entirely within the West Bank, ruled by the comparatively more moderate Palestinian Authority and its aging leading Mahmoud Abbas. The funds will be released to a contractor, who would then have discretion to divvy up the cash on the ground as they see fit.
First, notice the derisory sum involved — $5 million. It’s almost breathtaking in its paltriness, and the clear intent to belittle the demands of the Palestinians, with their hands perennially outstretched for ever more aid. Some might describe the sum as deliberately derisory. One is surprised that Mahmoud Abbas didn’t turn it down, in one of his well-known rants, as an “insult to the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people do not accept insults from anyone.” He may still be nursing a stunned fury: “how dare the Americans offer me so little?” But that’s just the point: the days of big handouts to the Palestinians are over, even during this pandemic. The sum the Americans offered was designed to be just enough to forestall accusations that Washington was unwilling to offer aid “at a time like this,” but the amount shows a clear intent to provide the absolute minimum. Never before have the Palestinians had to deal with an administration like this. They are at their wit’s end.
Of course this $5 million, which is being given to the PA for use in the West Bank, may be supplemented by a subsequent separate sum for Gaza; that will depend on whether the Trump Administration can find a local contractor in Gaza it trusts to distribute aid in the Strip, without any involvement by Hamas. If that happens, the donated sum is likely to be a similarly paltry amount.
Finding a trusted contractor to ensure the money flows exclusively to COVID-19 efforts instead of rockets and terror tunnels in Gaza has proved difficult. The leading contender for the job right now, Catholic Relief Services, has repeatedly expressed interest in distributing cash in the Hamas-controlled territory and has petitioned both the State Department and USAID to release funds previously awarded to them to spend in Gaza.
The CRS puts itself forward as the best candidate to distribute cash to the Palestinians, but obviously the Administration has had grave doubts about the CRS for some time; the State Department and USAID previously refused to release funds that the CRS had been awarded and wanted to spend in Gaza. The Administration is unlikely to change its mind about the CRS now. The problem remains of finding a group in Gaza that can distribute cash to both hospitals and people without involving Hamas. For if the past is any guide, if,Hamas is involved with that distribution, itwill find a way to take a cut for its leaders or to allocate whatever American aid is forthcoming to its members alone.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with other faith-based and U.S. private voluntary agencies, is desperately mobilizing to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impact of COVID-19 in Gaza,” wrote CRS chief Sean Callahan in a March 20 missive to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and USAID administrator Mark Andrew Green. “We are urgently requesting the support of USAID in these efforts. ”
The Catholic Relief pitch to distribute funds has also raised eyebrows among staff at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — who raised a number of possible concerns about how the relief organization would allocate funds.
Catholic Relief Services thinks it is beyond reproach, an organization that needs no vetting, as a dispenser of charity with a holier-than-thou halo around its institutional head. Not everyone agrees. Those in the Trump Administration who are familiar with the organization, which in the U.S.and Europe has pushed for more Muslim migrants, has parroted the Pope’s line that “authentic Islam” has nothing to do with Islam, has been enthusiastically involved in interfaith outreach that always ends up with Christians apologizing for their islamophobia and with Muslims accepting the apology –are not enthusiastic about entrusting the CRS with the task of distributing funds to Muslims in Gaza.
USAID should ask up front the entire list of ‘local partners’ and ‘key partners’ who will receive any U.S. taxpayer dollars so that USAID can do thorough and proper vetting of each ahead of time,” embassy staff wrote.
American diplomats in Jerusalem remain impressively unimpressed by the CRS’s pretense of pure motives; they want to know exactly to whom in Gaza CRS intends to give American taxpayers’ money, so that these would-be recipients can be investigated for possible ties to terrorism. Assurances from CRS that it would never support terrorists simply won’t wash.
Here’s one possibility: Washington could provide another $5 million in aid for Gaza, but insist that it be distributed by the one group that would certainly steer clear of Hamas – that is, those who are loyal to the PA. Perhaps the money ultimately intended for Gaza could be sent to the PA in Ramallah, which would then be asked to have its loyalists in Gaza distribute the aid directly to hospitals and sufferers from the coronavirus. Would Hamas try to stop this? Unlikely, given the wrath of Gazans if the terrorist group were to block that infusion of cash. If the PA can resist helping itself to any of that money, and distributes it openly and fairly, it might regain some of its popularity, at the very moment when the mismanagement and greed of Hamas have made that terror group intolerable to many Gazans. Were the PA to be able to renew its rule in Gaza, at the expense of Hamas, which in the last 12 years of misrule has been tried and found wanting, that would be a good thing. The PA is bad, but Hamas is far far worse. It’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.
First published in Jihad Watch.