It’s still too early to say if there is going to be a change of Israeli policies vis-a-vis the internal Palestinian situation by the yet-to-be-formed new Israeli government.

Ehud Olmert has so far continued the policies of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon: closing the door on any political process in the face of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while prompting a dramatic economic deterioration for, and humiliation of, Palestinians through draconian restrictions on movement. This has only served to contribute to the radicalization of Palestinian society and ultimately led to Hamas’ parliamentary election victory in January.

Olmert’s new government seems set to follow the same line, though the apparent composition of the government-in-making in could allow for a more rational approach.

So far, the Israeli and American strategy for dealing with the result of the Palestinain elections does not bode well at all. It is a strategy centered on cutting off all financial aid to Palestinians, even including taxes owed the PA, in order to bring about a quick collapse of the Palestinian government, which will result in the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

This strategy contradicts, at least on face value, that of the Palestinian opposition. It is crucial for the Palestinian opposition that Hamas be allowed to govern. The public expects progress on a number of fronts including tackling unemployment, improving government services and good governance. It is not at all clear that Hamas is capable of addressing these issues. With an efficient and credible opposition, the public will draw the necessary conclusion.

The present Israeli and international strategy, however, will simply have negative consequences for the Palestinian public and a positive impact on the public standing of Hamas. The Hamas government has already used the funding freeze to escape its obligations and responsibilities by claiming that it is the victim of a conspiracy. Khalid Meshaal, the head of Hamas, even publicly accused President Abbas and his office of being part of this conspiracy.

Abbas, meanwhile, has actively and vocally sought some kind of continuity of international aid to the Palestinian people and authority–the latter, since the basic services that are vital to the public, such as health, education and security, are mostly government services.

It is important for Abbas that and the international community understand the need to find a strategy that will take into consideration their own legal and political considerations but at the same time not harm the vital and basic needs of the Palestinian people.

Abbas needs to be allowed to play the role of salvaging Palestinian national interests, but he should avoid what Meshaal was trying to drag him into, which was to become party to the internal conflict between Hamas and Fateh, the government and the opposition. At the end of the day, Abbas might be the only point at which the interests of the international community and the interests of the Palestinian public meet.

The Israeli position on this issue is instrumental in shaping the international attitude and practices regarding foreign aid. That’s why the new Israeli government is invited to reconsider the careless and destructive approach the previous government took vis-a-vis the internal Palestinian situation and move toward policies more sensitive to the needs and requirements of the Palestinian public, on humanitarian grounds as well as for political self-interest.

But that would require, at this moment in time, encouraging donors to resume their aid while reducing those Israeli measures and practices, especially the restrictions on the movement of goods and people, that are increasing poverty and unemployment, both of which are overwhelming factors in the process of political and ideological radicalization of the Palestinian public.

It would also require adopting a positive attitude toward the resumption of a political process of the kind that could restore hope to the Palestinian public of ending the occupation by political means. This, in turn, means a resumption of the kind of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians on all levels, official and non-official, that disappeared as a direct result of Sharon‘s policies.

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

This article was Published on 24/4/2006 ©