The enormous anger over "transfer payments" earmarked for the settlers in Gaza is understandable. A rough calculation, dividing the sum - about NIS 7 billion, not including the construction of new homes - by the number of recipients, yields a fantastic gross figure of nearly NIS 1 million per person, including each infant and adult, each student and unemployed worker.
But since the size of this sum can only get worse - that is, the 7 billion may balloon to 10 billion - and since we need to keep holding our tongue because the withdrawal from Gaza will not be canceled due to monetary reasons, whatever the cost, it would be best to adopt some positive thoughts. For example, how much would it cost the State of Israel to maintain all of the brigades in Gaza until a new opportunity for withdrawal is created? How much would it cost to expand the construction infrastructure in those settlements? How much would be saved in maintenance costs? How much tax income would the state receive as a result of making the settlers citizens of the state again? One must admit that after nearly four decades of wastefulness, Israel is (perhaps) facing its last great wasteful expenditure related to Gaza. And that's good news.
After calming down and persuading ourselves that the terrible wastefulness could be worse, we should think about how to transform this withdrawal into a success. And, as it turns out, Arab partners are required for this. The most important one, of course, is Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the same person Ariel Sharon now wants to summon in order to coordinate the withdrawal. Abu Mazen is the only person who can apparently do something so that Israel can claim it was not the gunfire and attacks that drove it out of Gaza, but rather one of the many independent decisions the government approves.
Abu Mazen is not a magician, but he is the only politician in the neighborhood who at least knows how to conduct negotiations with Hamas and other Palestinian factions. He cannot promise success, but in a situation where he gains nothing from the withdrawal, he would certainly find it more difficult to achieve what Israel needs so much. In particular, Israel needs to avoid a "withdrawal under fire," the slogan that sums up the prestige involved here for the state.
Let's assume that Abu Mazen were to say that in order to increase the chances of his success in assisting Israel's withdrawal, he would like to receive just 20 percent of the sum Israel is paying for the pullout. A type of protection money - NIS 1.5 billion. Not a million shekels for each Gazan child, but just a little more than NIS 1,000 for each resident. Less than $350 million. For this sum, Abu Mazen would say, he could provide social welfare, education and health service for all of the Gaza Strip, and still leave a lot of money for creating jobs for tens of thousands of unemployed Palestinians. He could build the type of economy in Gaza that no organization would want to put under risk of an Israel attack. (Just as Hezbollah takes into consideration Lebanon's economic needs, and does not fire its arsenal of 12,000 missiles. Wasn't this price at least worth the risk?)
But Abu Mazen returned from Washington with a more modest sum - they promised him just $50 million to establish his democracy. They are afraid the Palestinian Authority will again make corrupt use of the money. The American administration - whose special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction exposed large-scale corruption in distributing U.S. financial aid to that country, whose proxy government steals tens of millions of dollars, whose tender awards for work are still being questioned for integrity, and which is funneling millions of dollars every month to oil the warlords in Afghanistan in exchange for a bit of quiet - is worried about extending assistance to the PA because of concerns about corruption.
Okay, let's say that Washington has no money left after pouring so much into Iraq. But Israel, for which an expenditure of NIS 7 billion is no big deal, should seriously reassess the price of securing the withdrawal: The Palestinian guards must also make some profit from it.
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