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Obama to Offer More Aid to Gaza Despite Benefits for Hamas

Obama’s balancing act: More aid to Gaza but not to Hamas, ease blockade without hurting Israel or PA, smooth Abbas’s feathers over flotilla clash.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 6/9/2010, 9:49 AM / Last Update: 6/9/2010, 10:01 AM

Flash 90

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected on Wednesday to offer visiting PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas more American aid for Hamas-controlled Gaza with conditions that the money not end up in the hands of the terrorist faction. However, a Palestinian Authority official has revealed how the money ends up in Hamas' hands.

“The president and…Abbas will discuss steps to improve life for the people of Gaza, including U.S. support for specific projects to promote economic development and greater quality of life," according to a senior Obama administration official quoted by Reuters.

American aid for Gaza since Hamas took control of Gaza has been funneled through the Fatah-led PA, but Bassem Khoury, minister of national economy for the Palestinian Authority, explained to the French newspaper Le Monde last October how Hamas pockets the money.

“The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is continuing to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza and this is half of our budget,” he said. "Then these employees buy goods that come in by way of the [smuggling] tunnels, on which Hamas gets paid a tax. The result: the Palestinian Authority's economy is cut off from the VAT revenues that were previously collected [by Israel and transferred to the PA] for goods imported into Gaza, while Hamas doesn't know what to do with its money.”

Abbas is expected to exploit the flotilla crisis to insist that President Obama pressure Israel to lift the partial embargo on Gaza, intended to safeguard civilians from attacks by rockets that Hamas smuggles in via the sea and underground tunnels from Egypt.

There is some opposition within the PA to removing the blockade. Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told the German News Agency (DPA) that he was opposed to lifting it until Hamas agrees to a truce with the Fatah-led PA.

He also flatly stated that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip because “the PA sends 200 trucks into Gaza, not through Rafiah but through [Israeli] crossings.” Other officials in the PA have said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s open support for Hamas has strengthened the terrorist faction at the expense of Fatah, whose leaders are more afraid than ever of visiting Gaza.

President Obama is using the flotilla crisis to flex more diplomatic muscle in the Middle East, while Abbas, buoyed by international condemnation of Israel, will use it to press for more concessions from Israel if the United States wants to make progress in its mediated talks between the PA and the Jewish State.

The president also is expected to give Abbas plenty of publicity in order to boost his image. Unlike the chilly reception and closed doors to the media when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the White House several weeks ago, reporters will be allowed in the Oval Office where Abbas is meeting with President Obama.