All About the Money

Relations between the PA and Iran were not born in Hamas' rise to power. Arafat accepted Tehran's guidance, but Hamas isn't loyal to the ayatollahs and lines its pockets with Saudi riyals " If Iran wants to provide aid, that is good. The important thing is that the money reaches the Palestinian Authority. Money that reaches us will in any case become Palestinian money, and we won't pay a price for it, because we have principles and we have a policy." Neither Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh nor Hamas political bureau head Khaled Meshal made these comments to the newspaper Al Hayat. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) said them last March, by way of explaining that Iranian money was not tainted. Abbas' remarks were made shortly after Iran announced its intention to donate $50 million to the Palestinian government, after an international boycott was imposed on it.

Perhaps Iran is only willing to donate money to a Hamas government? "We will stand by Hamas and by the Palestinian government" is the formula proposed last month by Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's National Security Council, the man who negotiates with the West over Iran's nuclear program and who, to a large extent, shapes Iranian foreign policy.

This formula, like Abbas' remarks, indicates at least a shared consensus: Every Palestinian body is willing to accept funds from Iran, and Iran is willing to assist any Palestinian body. There is no difference between Hamas and Fatah, and Ismail Haniyeh did not achieve a breakthrough with Iran. If there is a regional competition over the matter of aid, it is primarily on the giving end, not on the receiving end - between Saudi Arabia and Iran, not between Hamas and Fatah. The donors believe that, through this money, they will be able to navigate the policies of respective Palestinian organizations. In most cases, however, the Palestinian organizations enjoyed receiving the money, but were not necessarily obligated to the policy devised in Riyadh or Tehran.

Even in Arafat's time

During Yasser Arafat's reign, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) provided the most obvious example of this exchange. Arafat was among the first leaders to visit Iran after the 1979 revolution. The PLO embassy opened in Tehran in the former Israeli embassy. However, Fatah's love story with Iran was short-lived and not because of Iran. Arafat decided to support Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, a position that he maintained in the first Gulf War as well.

In 1992, when Fatah held conciliation talks with Hamas in Khartoum, Arafat disrupted the negotiations by accusing Hamas of "receiving money from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait." As far as Arafat was concerned, before the Oslo Accords, these three countries were the PLO's enemies.

Later, on a visit to Kuwait, Abbas was asked if he would apologize to the Kuwaiti people. "I apologize, but will you stop harping about this already," he said in a public expression of disagreement with Arafat.

It seems that Arafat was right at the time, when he accused Hamas of accepting money from both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Israel and the United States possessed documents indicating that Saudi charities were transferring numerous contributions to Hamas' welfare organizations. Eventually, the partners switched and Saudi Arabia assisted Arafat.

But it seems that Arafat's support for Iraq did not prevent Iran from assisting him later. The Karin-A weapons ship incident of 2001 attested to the fact that Iran's interests were more long-term than its memory. The Karin-A was transferring several dozen tons of weapons and armaments to the PA areas, apparently via Egypt or the sea.

The question of who in Iran purchased the arms for the PA is still not entirely clear. Was it the Revolutionary Guards, who sought to make some money on the side, or was it the government's volunteer forces (the Basij)? The Israeli defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz, provided the answer, when he announced that Iran planned to set up Revolutionary Guards bases in the territories in return for the military aid. No other support was found for this statement.

At the same time, Iran continued its affair with Hamas, which started late relative to its affair with the PLO. The first contact between Hamas and Iran is associated with that same "founding event" in 1992 when some 415 Hamas activists were expelled to Lebanon. That was the most important formative period for the movement, both in political and military terms. Most of those expelled to Lebanon later became people of some stature. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Mahmoud a-Zahar, and Ismail Haniyeh are just a few of the names.

The contact with Iran was then established via Hezbollah, but Ahmed Yassin made the great breakthrough five years later, after his release from an Israeli prison at the request of King Hussein. Hussein conditioned the release of the Mossad agents who failed to assassinate Khaled Meshal on Yassin's release. Yassin's first trip was to Saudi Arabia, where he received medical treatment and also used the opportunity to raise several million dollars from the Gulf states and Iran, which apparently agreed to supply Hamas with $15 million a year.

Each of the parties at the time had its own reasons for donating to Hamas. The Gulf states wanted to prevent Yassin from visiting Iraq and thereby grant it legitimacy, whereas Iran wanted to get its hands on anything the Gulf states were involved in. This is what it did in Afghanistan and in Bosnia.

Yassin, who appointed a Hamas representative in Iran, clarified to his associates that despite the generous Iranian aid, he would not allow any foreign country to intervene in Hamas' affairs. It was also one of the most serious points of disagreement between him and Khaled Meshal. Yassin had indeed been released from prison "thanks" to Meshal, but according to Yassin's associates, he never appreciated "this bandit" who while he was still in Jordan had tried to take over the movement.

Meshal's close ties with Iran, after he was expelled from Jordan, and Yassin's fear that Iran was directing Meshal, also served as the pretext for the chilled relationship between them. Yassin apparently bequeathed this fear to Haniyeh, who in his first year in office tried to display some independence and distance himself from Meshal's wings. A notable example of this is Haniyeh's refusal to accept Abu Mazen's proposal to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate suspicions that Meshal was behind the arms smuggling to Jordan several months earlier. Haniyeh refused, claiming that Hamas had no part in it. In so doing, he made it clear that there was dividing line between him and Meshal.

Ending the monopoly

Later on, after the abduction of Gilad Shalit, it was Haniyeh who called on the captors to return him, whereas Meshal enlisted the abduction in his service. Iran at the same time continued to nurture anyone who agreed to be nurtured by it. In April 2001, when Mohammed Khatami was the president of Iran, he convened a conference in support of the Palestinian intifada and the "Islamic revolution in Palestine." At the same time, Iran declared that it would not object to any solution to which the Palestinians agreed to.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also opting for this shuttle policy. In January 2006, Meshal met with Ahmadinejad in Damascus, after having met a month earlier with him in Tehran.

In November of this year, Ahmadinejad met with Farouk Kaddoumi, who holds the PLO's foreign affairs portfolio and is the secretary general of the PLO central committee. The division is clear. If Saudi Arabia and Egypt are now Abbas' allies, then Iran also wants a chunk of the PLO and therefore the association with Kaddoumi.

But Saudi Arabia is also not dipping in when Hamas is involved, and it is also leaving Iran to have a monopoly on funding in the organization. Last year, Yakub Abu Asab was arrested in Jerusalem on suspicion of being responsible for the transfer of funds from the Hamas office in Saudi Arabia to Hamas operations in the territories. The Hamas office in Saudi Arabia cannot operate without the kingdom's approval. Abu Asab transferred the money to two institutions in eastern Jerusalem, Rafada and Ikra, which are affiliated with Hamas. The one who complained in 2000 of the transfer of funds from Saudi Arabia to Hamas was none other than Arafat, who himself enjoyed Saudi support.

Iran's involvement in Hamas today is therefore no different in practical terms from what it was during Ahmed Yassin's time, just as Saudi Arabia's support for the PA and Hamas continues to carry the same weight. It is enough to quote the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, who gave his full backing to the Hamas government, and the remarks of the emir of Qatar, who told Condoleezza Rice that it would be unacceptable for his government not to help the PA and the Hamas leadership.

However, it seems that despite the outcry, Arab aid to the Hamas government is still greater than the aid from Iran. Iran committed to transferring $250 million, $120 million of which has already arrived; another $50 million will be transferred at the beginning of the year. Arab aid constitutes half a billion dollars, and each month millions of dollars stream in as humanitarian aid. Some of the money goes directly to Fatah officials serving in the PA via bank accounts opened outside the territories.