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December 9, 2004
Bribing Europe Through Palestine

The Bush administration announced a new $20 million aid package to be paid directly to the Palestinian Authority, breaking a long-time reluctance to fund the organization while led by Yasser Arafat. The Washington Post reports that Bush wants to make a gesture of support for Palestinian elections:

The money will go straight to the authority, breaking a U.S. restriction on direct financing for the government formerly run by Arafat. It comes as Palestinians are struggling to finance their Jan. 9 presidential election, the logistics of which were agreed upon yesterday by Israel and the Palestinians.

Bush views the $20 million as a token of the United States' renewed commitment to jump-starting the peace process during his second term, according to a senior administration official. This is a "new opportunity to assist in the emergence of a responsible, democratic, moderate Palestinian leadership," the official said.

Certainly the money will help, although it contains stipulations that some of it be spent by the PA to pay off their utility bills with Israel. The money's effect was not intended for Palestine, however; it was intended for Europe, where George Bush has received voluminous criticism for turning his back on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bush decided at the beginning of his term that while Yasser Arafat remained at the head of the Palestinian Authority, further negotiations were useless. Bill Clinton had exhausted the limits of diplomacy with Arafat over and over again, and Arafat refused to accept any of the deals offered, even the highly-favorable Barak proposals that touched off another intifada. Europeans were aghast at Bush's marginalization of Arafat and pressed Tony Blair to use his influence to get Bush back to the bargaining table, especially after Blair supported Bush in Iraq.

The $20 million in aid became possible with the death of Arafat, even if the money isn't likely to be spent much differently than if he were alive. It's a sop to Blair, who is worth the money and more, so that he can claim more influence over Bush, and so Bush can begin to rebuild diplomatic relationships with Europe. It also keeps the US in the center of the negotiations; we've seen in Iran what happens when we let the Europeans run high-stakes diplomatic conflict.

Whether we get any return on this investment should be seen shortly. If the Europeans start moving past the Iraq invasion to support the emergence of a truly free Iraqi nation, and if they finally start getting tough with Iran, the money will have been well spent. If not, the President has yet another example of European intransigence to use in shutting them out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and our general Middle East policy.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 9, 2004 7:30 AM

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