Why Do Palestinian Leaders Oppose Helping Their People?

For years, Palestinian leaders have been complaining that the Gaza Strip was "on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe." Time and again, they have warned that unless the world helps the Palestinians living there, the Gaza Strip will "erupt like a volcano."

Israel and the US are now offering to help improve the living conditions of the Palestinians living under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip. But guess who is fiercely opposed to any attempt to resolve the "humanitarian and economic crisis" in the coastal enclave, home to some two million Palestinians? Answer: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah faction.

In the past few weeks, both Israel and the US administration have come up with different ideas to help the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

US envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who recently visited the Middle East, are said to have presented initiatives that included providing necessities such as electricity, desalinating drinking water, employment opportunities and reviving the industrial zone in the Gaza Strip.

Israel, for its part, has asked Cyprus to consider the possibility of establishing a seaport on the island for shipping goods to the Gaza Strip. According to reports, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has reached an understanding with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to pursue the port plan. Liberman's office said that Israel is working internationally in a number of ways to try to "change the reality" in the Gaza Strip.

One would think that the Palestinian leaders would be extremely happy about these initiatives to alleviate the suffering of their people in the Gaza Strip. The plans to improve the living conditions of the residents of the Gaza Strip should be music to the ears of the Palestinian Authority leadership, right? Wrong.

What, exactly, is behind this mystifying desire on the part of the Palestinian leaders to deny their people a shot at a decent life? Why does the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which claims that it cares about the well-being of all Palestinians, vehemently oppose any plan to create job opportunities and other forms of aid for its people?

Let us take it step by step.

First, Abbas and his West Bank[sic]-based government seek to prolong the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip so that they can continue damning Israel for the crisis. They want the international community to continue to believe that Israel is responsible for the ongoing, intense suffering of the Palestinians. Difficult as it appears to for the global community to grasp, however, Israel's maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip is aimed solely at preventing the smuggling of weapons into the coastal enclave. The border between the Gaza Strip and Israel remains open for delivering food and humanitarian and medical aid into Gaza.

The border between Israel and the Gaza Strip remains open for delivering food and humanitarian and medical aid into Gaza.

Second, the Palestinian Authority and its leaders are opposed to any humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip because they fear that this would embolden Hamas by encouraging it to maintain its tight grip on the Gaza Strip and absolving it of its responsibilities towards the residents living there. Once others start providing the residents of the Gaza Strip with aid, Hamas would be able to continue investing millions of dollars in building tunnels to attack Israel and smuggling more weapons into the Gaza Strip. Hamas would no longer have to worry about paying salaries to Palestinians or purchasing medicine and food.

The Palestinian Authority is hoping that conditions in the Gaza Strip will get so bad that the Palestinians there will rise up against Hamas. It is worth noting that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah itself has imposed severe sanctions on the Gaza Strip in the past year.

These punitive measures include halting payments to thousands of civil servants and suspending social welfare assistance to hundreds of families. The sanctions have triggered a wave of protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent weeks, prompting Abbas's security forces to use force to disperse the protesters.

Third, the Palestinian Authority leadership are assuring us that the Israeli and US plans to help the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are part of a wider "conspiracy" to force the Palestinians to accept US President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East.

Abbas and his senior officials are using this issue to whip up anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments among the Palestinian population. They are telling the Palestinians that the economic and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip are primarily designed to extract "political concessions" from the Palestinians. Their argument: The Palestinians would be required to give up their "national rights," including the "right of return" for refugees and their descendants to their former homes in Israel proper, in exchange for improving their living conditions.

Palestinian Authority leaders are inciting their people by telling them that the US and Israel are seeking to "blackmail" the Palestinians. Consider, for example, what Abbas's prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, said on July 5: "We won't accept any plan to turn our national rights into humanitarian or financial rights. We have fixed political, historical and legal rights that are non-negotiable."

Another senior Abbas loyalist, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, was quoted on July 2 as saying: "We don't want your flour and wheat; we don't want your humanitarian aid."

And note another recent statement, made by Al-Aloul, who serves as Abbas's deputy in Fatah and is touted as the next Palestinian Authority president: "We are prepared to starve, but we can't, in return for resolving our humanitarian issues, give up Jerusalem and our basic rights."

The message should be obvious — after all, it is being broadcast loud and clear: Palestinian leaders would prefer to see their people starve than make any form of concessions for peace with Israel.

Yet Al-Aloul and Abbas are not the ones who are facing starvation. Life in Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank is pretty good for Abbas and his senior entourage. Unlike the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority leaders enjoy freedom of movement and live in luxury apartments and villas. There is nothing more comfortable than sitting in your fashionable house in Ramallah or Nablus [Shechem] and talking about starvation and humanitarian aid.

When Al-Aloul and other senior Palestinian leaders talk about the harsh conditions in the Gaza Strip, they conveniently forget to mention that it is, in part, their own sanctions that have aggravated the crisis there. But the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, who are desperate for jobs and a better life, do not really care about Trump's upcoming peace plan.

They also do not really care about a settlement or a checkpoint in the West Bank. Abbas and his officials seem dead-set to pursue their jihad against Israel and the US at the expense of the last surviving Palestinian. They go on selling their people old slogans about "national rights and principles and Jerusalem" while watching them die in the streets.

The final lesson to be drawn from the statements of the Palestinian Authority leaders against plans to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about economic or humanitarian issues.

By insisting on all Palestinian " national rights," including the "right of return," and by refusing to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, the Palestinians are in fact signaling that their true goal is to see Israel removed from the Middle East. How do we know that they want to destroy Israel? Abbas says he sees Israel as a "colonialist project that has nothing to do with Judaism."

This statement means that he does not see Israel as a legitimate state. Abbas and his officials do not care about the suffering of their people in the Gaza Strip because they are hoping to use the crisis there to pursue their campaign to delegitimize Israel. Hamas, for its part, is clearly stating that it will not give up its dream of "liberating Palestine, from the river to the sea," even if that means the starvation and death of its people. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas could have ensured a better life for their people a long time ago, but this is not what is on their mind. They care less about their people and more about finding ways to undermine and delegitimize and demonize Israel and Jews.

Abbas and his loyalists are saying in easy-to-understand language: "You can give us as much money as you want, we will not change our stance towards Israel and we will not give up any of our demands." In this regard, at least, they are telling the truth.

This conflict is not about money or economic aid. It is about the existence of Israel, whose presence the Palestinians refuse to tolerate in the Middle East.

This is the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Palestinians' number one priority — the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinians in general — is destroying Israel. They would rather die than give up their dream of destroying Israel.

[ Bassam Tawil ]