The Australian – May 13, 2011
ASKED in July 2009, in the aftermath of the Gaza War, if Australia would deal with the Palestinian government if Hamas were to be included, Julia Gillard was unequivocal in her response: “Hamas obviously is a terrorist organisation that has been engaged in violent actions against the Israeli people, and in order to be part of any process it needs to completely renounce that violence.”
So it should stand to reason that following the announcement last week that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and rival Hamas had agreed to end their long-standing feud and form a unity government, the Australian government must re-assess its relations with the Palestinian Authority.
But in Tuesday night’s budget, it was announced that “Australian aid to the Palestinian territories and Palestinian refugees in surrounding regions will double to around $70 million per annum by 2012-13”.
Included within that, is money that will go directly to the PA to “improve its operations and assist in the delivery of services”.
This is despite the fact that the “governance” section of our International Development Assistance Program in the budget explicitly states that “Australia supports a two-state solution led by a capable and moderate Palestinian Authority”. The question is, can a Palestinian Authority partly run by Hamas be considered capable and moderate?
If anyone needed a reminder as to where Hamas’s allegiance lies, look no further than their reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden.
Hamas was one of the few groups to condemn his killing, with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh calling bin Laden an “Arab holy warrior” and accusing the US of pursuing a policy based on “oppression and the shedding of Arab and Muslim blood”.
Hamas was born out of a desire to create an Islamic state in Gaza, West Bank – and all of Israel. Its charter explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction. It has said, unequivocally and repeatedly, that it will never negotiate with or recognise the Jewish state.
Since the beginning of this year, at least 300 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza, many by Hamas itself. Hamas also took responsibility for the deliberate firing of an anti-tank missile at a school bus several weeks ago, killing a 16-year-old youth.
Only two weeks ago, Hamas’s “military wing” (whose philosophy and modus operandi is no different from the rest of the group) confirmed it was “going on the path of jihad”.
Moreover, Hamas’s military wing is a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia under the Criminal Code Act. It is also a crime under Australian law, and a violation under international law, to provide funding to terrorist groups.
Yet there can be no guarantee that Australian taxpayers’ dollars will not reach their hands and be used for acts of terror against Israel or to support the activities of those who threaten Australian security. Only last month Israel arrested an Australian man and charged him with spying for Hamas.
Before the ink on the unity agreement even had the chance to dry, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader involved in the talks, said “[o]ur program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognising it”.
Hamas’s Prime Minister immediately followed this by calling on Fatah to renounce its recognition of Israel.
Meanwhile, Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeinah, said the reconciliation “was not Israel’s concern”. Yet when an organisation does not recognise even your mere existence and is sworn to your destruction, that is a very real concern to anyone.
It is telling that in June 2007, after Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah in a brutal coup that resulted in the loss of hundreds of Palestinian lives and led to the feud between the two groups, Abbas said of Hamas: “there will be no dialogue with these murderers and forces of darkness”.
Israel cannot be expected to deal with the new Palestinian government as long as Hamas continues to reject the quartet’s (UN, US, EU and Russia) pre-conditions for participation in the peace process. These are: recognition of Israel, renouncing terror and violence, and accepting all previous agreements and obligations.
There is an additional reason to be concerned about this unity deal. Hamas and Fatah have reportedly agreed to release each other’s prisoners, thereby severely undercutting Fatah’s security co-operation with Israel in the West Bank, which has – until now – enjoyed relative calm. One prisoner, however, who will not be released is Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas has held as a hostage for almost five years after seizing the soldier from Israeli soil, in total violation of international law, and without allowing even a visit from the Red Cross.
In the coming months, the Palestinians will go to the UN to demand recognition of a Palestinian state. The agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas is intended to show the world they are united and more ready than ever for statehood. But regrettably, all Abbas has shown is that he prefers to partner with those who seek Israel’s death and destruction, rather than negotiate a two-state solution in good faith.
Hamas’s inclusion in the new Palestinian government raises serious implications for the Australian government.
Hamas has already declared it has no intention of abiding by the quartet’s conditions – or the ones articulated by Gillard in July 2009 – including renouncing their campaign of terror against Israel. The Australian government would therefore now have to seriously consider whether it can even maintain ties to the PA.
The unity agreement will also have implications for Australian non-profit groups such as World Vision and Care Australia, who, notwithstanding their good intentions, may risk being in breach of Australian law by donating to projects in the West Bank and Gaza which may be effectively controlled or manipulated by Hamas.
After the announcement of the Palestinian agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.”
The PA has made its choice – peace with Hamas. Australia must make its choice as well.
Arsen Ostrovsky is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.