When the Arab Boycott Is Aimed at Palestine

The prominent and popular Islamic scholar Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi threatened on Thursday to issue a religious edict mandating a boycott of Arab and Islamic banks that refuse to transfer monetary aid to the Palestinians. This was the desperate cry of a cleric watching a nearly complete Arab boycott in operation, this time not against Israel, but against Palestine.

But even al-Qaradawi, who convened an emergency meeting of some 30 Islamic scholars in Doha, Qatar, understands that the boycott threat cannot be taken seriously. Islamic banks that manage some $300 billion worldwide and ordinary Arab banks all operate in the same global banking framework, and when faced with the sword of American threats, no country wants to take risks. This is even more the case when such American threats might have an immediate impact on Arab stock exchanges, which are very slowly beginning to recover from a rapid decline in recent weeks.

The only way any money is reaching the Palestinian Authority (beyond limited humanitarian aid) is through private individuals and checking accounts that cannot be frozen. Why is the Arab boycott of Hamas so successful? American pressure is an influential factor, but such threats never prevented European and Arab countries in the past from cooperating with Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gadhafi before sanctions were lifted, and does not prevent most of them from conducting normal trade tries with Iran.

The difference is that Hamas is now perceived as unwilling to cooperate with the official Arab position adopted at the Beirut summit - the Arab League resolution adopting the two-state principle and the 1967 borders. Arab states, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are demanding a greater effort from Hamas. They are not prepared to accept the possibility that the movement now leading the country that represents Arab unity might rebel against an Arab decision. The "loss" of Palestine into radical religious hands, especially with Iraq inching out of the Arab framework, therefore necessitates restraining action that will bind Hamas's Palestine to the Arab ranks.

The result is that even Iranian banks, or the banks Hezbollah uses in Lebanon, cannot transfer funds to the PA as such, but only to private account holders. The Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said last week that $347 million donated to the PA by Arab citizens and institutions are frozen in Arab banks, including $90 million in Jordan, which suspended all activity by Hamas. Jordan is also currently banning the collection of private donations for Palestinians in the territories, not to mention for the PA, which is refusing to cooperate in the investigation of arms smuggling into Jordan.

The Arab response, no less than the American and Israeli one, made clear to Hamas leaders that they are facing a front the likes of which no Arab state has faced before. Hence the expectation that a change in Hamas's political stance is near.