In one of the first international policy moves by Canada’s new government, the Harper administration declared that Canada would cut funding to the new democratically elected Palestinian Authority. I emphasize “democratically elected” because it is crucial to remember that under incredible hardships-both domestic and international-the Palestinian people were out en masse to exercise their right to vote. And in return for this commitment to the democratic process, Canada was the first among the Western states to cut funding to the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
Our government’s rationale was simple enough: until Hamas heeds demands to renounce the use of violence against Israel and agrees to recognize Israeli sovereignty, Canada would cease direct funding to the P.A. and reassess its contributions to the various UN agencies that administer programs in the territories, funding that together totals $25 million CAD. Peter McKay, minister of Foreign Affairs, put it bluntly: under the current situation, “not a red cent” will go to Hamas from Canada.
As the largest employer in the territories, the Palestinian Authority relies on foreign aid to finance its operations. The cutting off of aid by Canada and other Western countries will severely hamper the P.A.’s ability to effectively govern the area and will further burden an already fragile economy. The World Bank estimates the Palestinian economy will shrink by at least 27 per cent in 2006 alone because of the termination of foreign aid. This downturn will have serious political, social and economic repercussions, and will likely serve to further marginalize voices of moderation while lending credence to more extreme factions.
The parliamentary elections that brought Hamas to power have been recognized by many experts as being as much a vote against the rampant corruption of the secular-nationalist Fatah government as they were a vote for the more hard-line Hamas party. This corruption, coupled with Fatah’s inability to bring to an end the four-decade-long Israeli occupation, represented the principal election issues-that Hamas is an Islamist party was not of immediate concern to many of the voters.
While for long-term international legitimacy Hamas’ view of Israel must evolve to a more tenable position, it is short-sighted of Canada to cut ties with the nascent government. Hamas officials have already indicated their willingness to begin negotiations with Israel on the two-state plan and have re-affirmed their commitment to the year-long ceasefire. In light of these assurances, a more effective Canadian policy for long-term peace would be to encourage these opportunities and foster the beginnings of a dialogue.
Canada’s cessation of economic aid to the Palestinian government represents a blow to both Palestinian democracy and to Canada’s reputation within a region where it has historically been held in high regard. While our own government is also new, we should hope that its future policies for the region and beyond are based more on the values and interests of Canadians than on the appeasement of our more traditional allies.