Commentary Magazine


Why is the U.S. Subsidizing Hamas?

Israel’s government predictably capitulated to international pressure yesterday and resumed tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. But American funding for the PA remains under attack, with the latest salvo coming from two congressmen who asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to investigate PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s various plans to give cash to terrorists.

There’s another question Congress ought to be asking, however: Why is the U.S. subsidizing Hamas – which, if one believes the data supplied by no less a personage than Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, chairman of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for international assistance to the PA, is de facto what international aid is doing?

In their letter to Dodaro last week, Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Steve Israel (D-NY) voiced concern over Abbas’s recently announced plans to build new homes for each of the 1,027 terrorists freed in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and to give them $5,000 cash grants. As the letter correctly noted, many of those freed were convicted of attacks that collectively killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, and paying terrorists is an inappropriate use of U.S. funds.

Nor are the sums involved chump change. The cash grants alone would cost $5.1 million, and the housing would cost much more: If we assume a price of some $40,300 per house (based on the average Palestinian monthly rent of $210 multiplied by Moody’s long-term average ratio of sale prices to annual rent), it would total $41 million.

Moreover, the congressmen neglected to mention Abbas’s third cash-for-terrorists program: monthly salaries for convicted terrorists still in prison, ranging from roughly $400 to $3,450 depending on the length of the sentence (the longer the sentence –meaning the more heinous the crime – the higher the salary). Multiplying the midpoint of this sliding scale ($1,925) by some 4,200 prisoners (B’Tselem’s figure from the end of August minus those included in the Shalit deal), this comes to $8.1 million a month, or $97 million a year – without including the program’s additional costly benefits, such as free health insurance and university tuition for released prisoners who served at least five years (three for women). Altogether, therefore, Abbas plans to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money on terrorists.

But all this, outrageous though it is, isn’t where the real money lies. The real money, according to Store’s data, is what the PA spends on subsidizing Hamas. Specifically, the PA has spent more than $4 billion since 2008 – over half the international aid it received – to pay salaries for government employees in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and cover Gaza’s water and electricity bills.

Of course, paying teachers and doctors and providing water and electricity are worthy humanitarian goals. But money is fungible. Thus, by relieving the Hamas government of any need to provide such services itself, this international aid enables it to use the tax revenues it collects for less benign purposes, like acquiring the latest high-tech weapons looted from Libya.

In short, U.S. aid to the PA is effectively subsidizing Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. Is that really how Americans want to spend their hard-earned cash?