U.S. Funding Palestinian Authority over Hamas in Elections

Scott Wilson and Glenn Kessler report on the front page of today’s WaPo that the U.S. government is backing the old terrorists over the young ones in the upcoming Palestinian elections.

The Bush administration is spending foreign aid money to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas. The approximately $2 million program is being led by a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development. But no U.S. government logos appear with the projects or events being undertaken as part of the campaign, which bears no evidence of U.S. involvement and does not fall within the definitions of traditional development work.

U.S. officials say their low profile is meant to ensure that the Palestinian Authority receives public credit for a collection of small, popular projects and events to be unveiled before Palestinians select their first parliament in a decade. Internal documents outlining the program describe the effort as “a temporary paradigm shift” in the way the aid agency operates. The plan was designed with the help of a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer who worked in postwar Afghanistan on democracy-building projects.

U.S. and Palestinian officials say they fear the election, scheduled for Wednesday, will result in a large Hamas presence in the 132-seat legislature. Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, is at war with Israel and is classified by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. But its reputation for competence and accountability in providing social services has made it a stiff rival of the secular Fatah movement, which runs the Palestinian Authority and has long been the largest party in the Palestinian territories.

The plan’s $2 million budget, although a tiny fraction of USAID’s work here, is likely more than what any Palestinian party will have spent by election day. A media consultant for Hamas said the organization would likely spend less than $1 million on its campaign.

[…]

According to interviews with U.S. and Palestinian officials here and in Washington as well as project documents obtained by The Washington Post, the plan to help promote the Palestinian Authority, and by extension Fatah, began emerging as Israel ended its 38-year occupation of Gaza in August.

Given a choice of Fatah over Hamas, the former is clearly preferable. Still, this could easily backfire as, presumably, Hamas will use this to argue that Arafat’s successors are now tools of the United States.

On that note, one wonders why the Post decided to run this story this morning rather than, say, Thursday. Surely, publishing it on the eve of the election is very helpful to Hamas.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. McGehee says:

    Politically, it’s much harder to destroy your opponent if he is seen as moderate. Hamas won’t present the Israeli government with that problem.

    Far-fetched, yes — but we often joke about Karl Rove somehow getting Howard Dean elected chairman of the DNC…

  2. nfn fnke says:

    On that note, one wonders why the Post decided to run this story this morning rather than, say, Thursday.

    A newspaper is motivated to break stories before their competitors. It would be stupid for them to wait to get scooped by another media outlet. The more stories they break, the better reputation they build, and the more papers they sell. It’s in their fundamental interest as a capitalist enterprise to beat the competition.

    This may not meet your big-government, socialist sensibilities, James, but that’s the way the market workd.

  3. James Joyner says:

    nf: There are more important things than selling newspapers. One would think the national security interests of the United States would be one of those.

  4. DC Loser says:

    There are more important things than selling newspapers. One would think the national security interests of the United States would be one of those.

    Tell that to Mr. Gertz and the Moonie Wash Times.

  5. nfn fnke says:

    nf: There are more important things than selling newspapers. One would think the national security interests of the United States would be one of those.

    The idea that the US “national security” is somehow threatened by this story is absurd. There is nothing to indicate that the program is classified–in fact the USAID representative in Gaza & the West Bank is discussing the program openly ON THE RECORD.

    The only way that this story could conceivably hurt national security stems from the fact that it provides more evidence to the duplicity of the Bush regime. Bush’s moral claims to be a supporter of democracy are undermined when his government tries to influence elections in a foreign country.

    If the Palestinian Authority, the European Union, Canada, or some other foreign government or national tried to do the same sort of stuff in the US, it would violate Federal election laws.

    Karen Hughes and her ridiculous taxpayer-funded spin machine can do very little in the face of contradictory actions.