Give them the money
Hamas is now going to be the Palestinian government, which must take care of its citizenry. Without economic aid, all it will have is a conflict, and that, as it has proved in the past, is a very easy job for it.
The American administration has an excellent excuse: It is prohibited by law from providing aid to a government that includes members from a terror organization, so the Palestinian government that will include Hamas members will not enjoy American aid.
It's an excuse, since it is possible to aid such a government in indirect ways, if that's what the donor wants. Money can be moved to non-government organizations, to pay off the Palestinian Authority debts to Israel by paying companies like the Electric Corp. directly; in short, just as President Bush decided in 2003 to suspend the law that prohibits direct transfer of funds to the PA, he can do it now.
But the excuse after all is political, and the threat of ending the aid was meant to block a Hamas victory. So now what, after Hamas is already inside?
The answer can be found in a report issued by the World Bank in December, analyzing the state of the PA's economic situation. Thus, for example, the PA has a monthly deficit of $57 million, and with the necessary adjustments that deal with wage increases, it is expected to reach a $900 million deficit in 2006. The revenues barely cover the salaries of PA employees, and nothing is left for development and infrastructure; average unemployment is 24 percent, but in the 20-24 age range, it reaches some 44 percent, which is the same proportion of the population that is beneath the poverty line. This dry data translated into one of the main reasons for the rise of Hamas.
And here's the vicious cycle: Without American and other foreign aid, Hamas will continue to grow stronger, hope for a better life under a democratically elected government will fade, and the investment made by the American government - some $40 million - for democracy-acceleration projects will go down the drain. With American aid, alongside Europe's 250 million euros in aid, due to double next year, the new PA could regain public confidence in the government's apparatus and certainly plant the feeling that democratic processes, like elections, can make changes in standards of living.
The economic threat on the political system need not be contingent on who is serving in the PA. The administration has already missed the opportunity to create political change in Palestine through economic means. Economic sanctions now mean a new punishment, and not politics. But even if the American administration wants to undertake such sanctions, it is difficult to understand why it threatens the new PA government and not the Lebanese government, which has ministers from Hezbollah, also defined as a terrorist organization. And it's interesting - will the U.S demand the Europeans block annual aid to the PA? Will it pressure Arab states, whose aid only constitutes 18 percent of all the aid to the Palestinians, to cease their help, just when there has been a democratically elected government?
Now, when it becomes clear that Hamas will form the next Palestinian government, there are those in Israel also playing with the idea of sanctions, not only to prevent direct aid, but also not to hand over to the PA its money earned from customs and VAT. What could be more logical than preventing such aid from reaching a terror group, to punish the victors and with them the millions of Palestinians who voted for them. Imagine how much satisfaction could be derived from such a vindictive action - "If you voted for Hamas, you won't eat." A proper Western response to those who have an extreme Islamic ideology. But the organization is now going to be the Palestinian government, which must take care of its citizenry, find them work, repair the schools and everything else that the PA failed to do, and which brought Hamas their victory. It is very easy to only pay attention to Hamas' extreme religious ideology and see it as the be-all and end-all. Hamas now has a conflict and a state to run. Without economic aid, all it will have is a conflict, and that, as it has proved in the past, is a very easy job for it.