Last week, when President Bush met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and pledged $50 million dollars in aid, a lot of people whom I respect were outraged. There has been absolutely no sign of a true crackdown on terrorism by the Palestinian Authority, and the “cease-fire” the pundits bring up whenever Israel strikes back is a joke. To these folks, what Bush is doing is rewarding the Palestinian intransigence and encouraging more violence against Israel.
I see it a little differently. I have absolutely nothing to back up this theory, but I think it makes sense.
So far, Bush has had a great deal of success with the “carrot and stick” approach — especially when that “stick” is the military might of the United States. Nations that play nice are rewarded (Libya, for one), those that do not are swatted (Taliban-run Afghanistan and Iraq under Saddam, to name two). And so far, it’s worked a hell of a lot better than previous approaches.
Now, with the Palestinians, we are showing them both sides. For most of Bush’s presidency, we froze out Yassir Arafat and boosted our support for Israel. By doing that, we showed Abbas what it’s like to not have us as a friend (which is not quite the same as an enemy — just ask Saddam). Now we’re giving him a taste of what it’s like to have us as a friend. And in the big picture, an invitation to the White House for a photo-op and $50 million is pretty small potatoes.
But I strongly suspect that, unlike all the other money given to the Palestinians over the years, there will be some strings attached. We will be (I hope) watching to see just how that money gets spent. If it goes towards humanitarian efforts, and truly benefits the Palestinian people, then that would be a good indicator that there is real progress to be made by working with Abbas. But if it goes towards weapons or to line the pockets of the Palestinian kleptocrats that have been stealing from their own people for decades, that, too, will be an indicator about how Mr. Abbas should be treated.
That $50 million is a huge amount of money, but think of it another way: most people won’t play a lottery until it gets up to around $100 million — and at least half of that would go to taxes, anyway. In international circles, it’s chump change. It’s walking-around money. It’s pimp-flash.
But politically, it’s a $50,000,000 length of rope. Mr. Abbas could use it as a lifeline, or make a noose and hang himself with it.
I hope that Abbas is sincere in his statements calling for peace, but I’m cynical enough to believe the latter — especially since a good deal of the Palestinian’s income dried up with the fall of Saddam. And once Abbas gives in to his baser nature, we can (at the very least) freeze him out the way we did Arafat. Or we can simply let Israel deal with him however they see fit.
For example, it would certainly seem fair to give Israel an equal gift if Abbas abuses this one. And I bet $50,000,000 will buy a lot of Hellfire missiles…