Hamas sanctions squeeze the life out of West Bank (Jane Flanagan, 07/05/2006, Sunday Telegraph)

With Hamas refusing to condemn a recent suicide attack, aid workers fear that the isolated Palestinian government – and the limited services available to its people – may soon collapse. Aid agencies would be overwhelmed if expected to pick up the pieces.

“All the international aid agencies put together will not be able to replace the services that the Palestinian Authority provides,” said David Shearer, the head of the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs.

As government coffers empty and the flow of trade and goods into the Palestinian territories dries up, medical supplies in hospitals are running dangerously low and basic food supplies are unaffordable for most families.

Last week a group of 36 aid agencies working with Palestinians, including the British groups Merlin and Save the Children UK, wrote a joint letter to Israel urging it to fulfil last November’s agreement to allow trade in and out of Gaza. Israel has remained insistent on keeping tight checks on traffic to prevent terrorist attacks.

The economy of the Palestinian territories has been propped up by outside support since the early 1990s, when the PA was created out of the Oslo peace process as the future government of a nascent Palestinian state. In spite of the continued fighting that stalled progress towards creating a Palestinian state, the international community kept faith with the PA, ploughing in billions of pounds.

The World Bank estimates that only 12 per cent of the PA’s economic activity was ever internally generated. The rest came from outside, either through Palestinians earning wages in Israel or foreign donor support. When Yasser Arafat, then the Palestinian leader, launched the armed intifada in late 2000, Israel closed the checkpoints to the occupied territories, reducing the income from foreign earnings to a trickle. By the time Hamas won power in January’s general election, the PA was in debt to the tune of ¬£451 million.

When aid was suspended by Brussels and Washington, Hamas asked Muslim nations for funding and won promises of tens of millions of pounds from friendly Arab nations – only to run into another problem. International banks have refused to transfer these Arab funds to the PA, for fear of being proscribed by the United States banking authorities for helping Hamas, which is on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations.

They have reason to be cautious. Five years ago, when al-Aqsa Islamic Bank in the West Bank city of Ramallah was described by President George W Bush as “a financial arm of Hamas”, its global business vanished overnight. Both America and Europe agree that economic sanctions should hurt the Hamas administration, not the Palestinian people.

Odd thing about our Left, you could starve every Palestinian to death via transnational sanctions and they’d not bat an eyelash, but the use of military force in places where it can save lives by changing the regime and allowing sanctions to be lifted is more than they can tolerate. It’s as if the positive use of American force serves to delegitimize any cause in their eyes.

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