Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Frist flatters and flirts with Abbas 

I'm trying to fight the instinct to run to my blog everytime I disagree with something I find published, so eager to expose even the slightest contradiction. But the urge is so strong, especially when my longer, more thoughtful piece isn't quite ready, and I haven't hung any fresh meat on the blog hook for a while. So...

The Jerusalem Post carried a piece by MJ Rosenberg that shows some, well, interesting thinking. Rosenberg effusively praises Senator Bill Frist for his conciliatory attitude to Mahmoud Abbas, regardless of whether it is justified:

Frist knows Abbas's limitations. For instance, last Tuesday Palestinian police arrested two men from a suspected Hamas rocket squad after a gun battle in the Gaza Strip, but freed them soon after. The good news, of course, is that the terrorists were arrested; the bad news is that they were let out.

But Frist's comments were designed to emphasize the first half of the story.
I would like to take this moment to mention to Mr. Rosenberg that I too was thinking of sending a sentimental E-Card to the Palestinian leader about that first half, except I think I misplaced his email address and abbas@frees.terrorists.pa didn't work. Seriously, I think more people would have praised that first half if Abbas hadn't cut them off mid-sentence with the second part. Abbas observed Arafat for many years, did he learn nothing? Always wait for the praise shower to finish before freeing the killers. Well, at least he still has Senator Frist as an admirer, and that's got to count for something.

Then Mr. Rosenberg whines by proxy on behalf of the Palestinians about the insulting and humiliating financial aid the US is sending:

But Finance Minister Fayyad also told Frist that the United States can make a big difference. "He discussed how important foreign assistance is to providing basic services for the Palestinians," Frist said. He also said that Palestinians appreciate the $200 million aid package requested by the president and appropriated by Congress.

But a funny thing happened to that $200 million on the way to the Palestinian Authority. It isn't $200 million anymore. The Senate gave $50 million of that sum to Israel (to build new terminals at the borders). Other "earmarks" reduce the Palestinian aid package even further. In fact, after all is said and done, the $200 million is now $139.5 million.

It is hard to know what the House and Senate were thinking. Rather than viewing Palestinian aid as a way of shoring up Abbas against Hamas, they went out of their way to cut the rug out from under him. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with putting conditions on foreign aid (why not?) or providing for independent audits of aid recipients – but why would Congress attach more conditions on aid to Abbas than it did on aid to Arafat?
So let me get this straight. The Palestinians are getting $139.5 million, tax free (that's more than Kobe Bryant makes, I think), and they are whining about it? They can't stand that Israel will be getting $50 million earmarked specifically to upgrade the border terminals and improve the flow of goods to and from PA territory?

This is absurd. The US could have just played it like a used car dealer, taping up an obscene sticker price on the old jalopy and then seducing prospective buyers with deep discounts.

The President, instead of requesting $200 million for the Palestinians, could have requested $50 million for Israel. When the Palestinians whined, he then could have slapped the conditions on Israel's money, and bought off at least a few minutes of quiet with the $140 million offer which would now look like the gift it is. Would this have satisfied Mr. Rosenberg and the Palestinians? I suspect President Bush knows the answer to that question, and that is why he didn't bother with the farce.

If the money is that humiliating, Abbas should reject it and get the Saudis and other oil-rich nations to chip in instead. At least he would have his dignity, if not the cash. And if he really needed the cash, he could always talk to Suha.
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