Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Hamas’s War for Cash

by Elliott Abrams
August 5, 2014


Nowadays most of the press takes for granted the demands for a “Marshall Plan” for Gaza, rehabilitation of Gaza, and payment of salaries for civil servants. The humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza are very great, but take another look: it seems this war was started by Hamas because it was short of cash.

It’s well known that Iran’s payments to Hamas were diminished or eliminated when Hamas -which is Sunni- sided with the Sunni rebels in Syria against Iran’s ally, the Assad regime, It is also clear that the Egyptian army has taken serious actions to close down the vast network of smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Sinai, which Hamas taxed to produce much of its income. The result was a fiscal disaster for Hamas, visible in the fact that it has been unable to pay salaries to its people. There are a remarkable 43,000 people on the Hamas payroll in Gaza, of whom about 13,000 are men under arms.

So what did Hamas do to change this situation? First it tried to get the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to pay the salaries, by entering into a sort of non-party or “technocratic” government with the Fatah party in the PA. This failed: the PA, which is paying its own civil servants in Gaza, refused to take on the additional burden. So Hamas turned to war. That such a war would be a disaster for the people of Gaza, would surely result in hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded, would destroy many homes and public facilities, must have been clear to the Hamas leadership. They had spent years planting their rockets and tunnels in and under hospitals, schools, and homes, which predictably would be hit during the war. No matter. That was a price the people of Gaza would have to pay.

And then would come the payments to Hamas. The goal of the war was to shake things up, to get Hamas out of its fiscal crisis, by getting the world, the “international community,” to get money moving. Perhaps Qatar would agree to pay those salaries. Perhaps the United States would pressure Egypt and Israel to open more passages more hours, and without undue inspections of what was going through. Perhaps the Americans and the EU and the wealthy Arab oil producers would go for as “Marshall Plan” for Gaza, sending hundreds of millions of dollars.

And all the while, Hamas would remain in charge. As Guy Bechor pointed out in Gplanet, it’s as if all the Marshall Plan funding directed at Germany had been sent with the Nazi Party still in charge in Berlin rather than after the destruction of the Nazi regime and while American troops were stationed in Germany.

It remains to be seen, of course, how well Hamas’s bet will pay off for Hamas. The price paid by the people of Gaza is enormous, but that was part of Hamas’s goal: no destruction, no reconstruction money to skim. The basic situation remains: every citizen of Gaza is a Hamas hostage.

That is not an argument against reconstruction, but it is a reminder that the rules we and other donors set will determine whether most of the money assists people in need, or assists Hamas.  One has to doubt, if experience is a guide, that there will be much stomach among donors to set up stiffer procedures so that UNRWA schools do not again become rocket depots; so that the Hamas command center under the Shifa Hospital is destroyed; so that the dual use items that may enter Gaza are tracked from entry to use and diversion of goods like cement is prevented. But given the Egyptian, Saudi, and Emirati attitude toward Hamas, maybe this time it could be different; maybe tough American leadership could with Arab support demand that Hamas lose its bet. Maybe, that is, it is possible to help the people of Gaza without enriching the terrorists who use them as cannon fodder.  That should certainly be a key goal of the United States when the “reconstruction of Gaza” hits the international agenda.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Aziz

    Type your comment in here…creative thinking which bears in human elements.
    U r saying let’s the gaza peoples vanish once for all.
    What happend to them is 21 century massacre but who cares ?’!!! as long as they are Palestinians ?

  • Posted by Eve Rowell

    To Aziz,
    Blame Hamas for their starting the war knowing their own people would end up being killed–because then they can use all their phony/exaggerated casualty numbers to get the support of Islamists in every corner of the earth, including European governments and media which have bowed to Islamist pressure groups to spout their propaganda. They have fear of rioting and death threats if they don’t take the side of the Islamist terrorists in their own countries.

    So no, the Palestinian people are not the enemy of Israel, Hamas is the enemy of not only Israel but of the Palestinian people themselves.

  • Posted by Richard Huber

    What Hamas needs is a big uncle like the AIPAC. If Hamas had an AIPAC it could “lobby” the US Congress and get itself a nice stipend just like Israel does. How about $3.5 billion a year? Or maybe it should be just $500 per inhabitant of Gaza which would only be $900 million per annum. But then maybe our Hamas version of the AIPAC could indulge in a little extra push and get the dysfunctional body to add a little dollop of $225 million extra in a pre-vacation present, even though it’s unable to pass even the simplest of domestic pieces of legislation like replenishing the highway fund or dealing with the immigrant crisis at our southern border.

  • Posted by Al Max

    Thank you for the clarification. The people of Gaza actually don’t mind living under apartheid rules, and they elected Hamas only so that Hamas can get their salary. Got it.

  • Posted by Patty White

    The Palestinians elected Hamas. They should vote them out of office

  • Posted by diana

    1) I may be wrong and please correct me Mr. Abrams of the 3 billion that Israel gets, 2.5 have to be used in the USA buying arms. Boeing, Raytheon, etc. All 3 Billion are being repaid to the USA with the heavy taxes that the Israeli people pay their gov.
    2) Some of the shenanigans that color the conflict are that we sell arms to Qatar also, who not only helps Hamas but also houses an American base.
    3) Fox News, has a partner in Prince al-Waleed and since S.Arabia has sided temporarily w/Israel everything about the conflict is very positive towards Israel.
    4) Because I am tired of the platitudes of al-Jazeera, where the whole world is screwed up, except Qatar and its allies, I just don’t watch the channel, so I am not up to date .
    5) They are to many players, to many agendas and to much nonsense, and the consequences are: cadavers

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