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Opinion: Window-Dressing in the Middle East

A decision by the Middle East diplomatic quartet to create a temporary mechanism to deliver aid to the Palestinians will not help ease the desperation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, says DW's Peter Philipp.

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Hamas' financial crisis is proving a burden to the Palestinian people

The decision by the quartet to temporarily channel funds to the Palestinian territories will hardly effect any great change in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One of the main reasons is that the implementation of this decision will take weeks, if not months. Meanwhile, the situation of the Palestinians is desolate. Up to a third of the Palestinian population is dependent on the 150,000 civil servant salaries paid by the government. Or to be more precise -- salaries that the government hasn't been able to pay now for almost two months. That amounts to $166 million (130 million euros) every month.

Also missing are the $50 million per month that Israel is obliged to pay on duties and taxes -- money that it is withholding in trust for the Palestinian Authority. The official aid payments from Europe and the US have been stopped since Hamas' election victory. According to the World Bank, that amounts to a billion dollars a year. Despite offers of aid from the Arab League, Iran, Russia and certain Scandinavian countries, the money remains absent, because they can't find a way to transfer it.

Most international banks refuse to carry out transfers, because they're afraid of American sanctions. Even Saudi and Egyptian banks give higher priority to their business relations with the US than showing solidarity with the Palestinians. In this respect, the members of the quartet did well by demanding that banks no longer face the threat of sanctions if they carry out these money transfers. But this also made the quartet's helplessness more than clear.

Quartet largely i n effectual

Beratungen des Nahostquartetts in New York

The quartet members held an emergency meeting on Tuesday

The quartet originally came together to offer the Middle East a way out of the situation it has found itself in ever since the Intifada sparked open animosity between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But this concentrated effort by international powers brought little more into being than the "Road Map" -- a non-binding Middle East peace plan. Two of its central tenets: The violence has to stop, and both sides have to recognize each other.

But the quartet hasn't been able to push through two such self-evident conditions. Israel and the PLO were able to make a step in the right direction in Oslo. But now that Hamas has been elected to lead the Palestinians, the quartet seems at a loss. Up until now, Hamas has always rejected Israel's right to statehood, and welcomed and justified terrorist attacks against Israel. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with such an organization -- one that was branded a terrorist organization in Europe and the US.

And yet, Hamas came to power in free elections -- elections just as Western powers had always demanded, and of which they were also proud. That is, until the results were made known. Now the West has shown that it applies double standards.

The West wanted to put pressure on the new Hamas government, but instead it ended up oppressing the Palestinian population. The decision to partly reinstate Palestinian aid is supposed to correct that mistake, but it won't deliver a solution. That still lies with the principal actors themselves -- Hamas on the one hand, Israel on the other. Everything else is just window-dressing, meant to disguise the fact that the Middle East quartet is incapable of creating peace in the region.

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