Earlier this month the Forward reported that House member and presidential candidate Richard Gephardt called for a new “Marshall Plan” for the Middle East because, as he said, “terrorism is rooted in poverty and tyranny.” The Missouri Democrat emphasized American economic assistance, public diplomacy and a democracy corps as the cure for what ails the strife-torn region.
While Gephardt’s Marshall Plan — with its “throw money and good intentions” at the problem — may be popular among liberals, it is a shortsighted foreign policy that ignores the history of the Middle East. Pledging American dollars to terrorists and corrupt dictatorships fails to recognize that peace has proved so elusive in the Middle East in part because of reckless funding that has perpetuated violence and ensured poverty.
In contrast, President Bush understands that the roots of the problems in the Middle East are corrupt leaders who steal from their own people. Bush has been working to throw out unscrupulous leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein, emphasizing regime change as the best path to peace in the Middle East.
These corrupt leaders are what stifle Democratic revolution in the Middle East, not a tightfisted America — as liberals would have us believe. The Middle East has wealth, yet its leaders choose to spend their people’s money on palaces instead of playgrounds. In addition, the world community gives billions to the region. The reality is that additional American economic aid would have little effect on bringing democratic reforms to the region unless corrupt tyrants are stopped from looting foreign aid.
The European Union, for example, lavishly funds the Palestinian Authority with billions of dollars in aid. These billions come despite clear evidence Arafat paid for terrorism with foreign humanitarian dollars — and the money continues to pour in.
E.U. aid to Arafat has reached at least $4.5-5 billion over the last decade. American aid to the P.A. totals about $75 million annually, not including the millions of dollars sent each year from private sources. Corruption is rife, and today the Palestinians are further away from democracy than ever before. As long as Arafat controls the P.A.’s funds and he and his gang remain in power, no real reform is possible.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice accurately summed up the situation, saying “the Palestinian Authority, which is corrupt and cavorts with terror… is not the basis for a Palestinian state moving forward.” Rice was correct to target the P.A. and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The fraud has been widespread in the P.A. and the PLO, yet it has been ignored for decades. In 1991, Britain’s National Criminal Intelligence Service published evidence that the PLO had stolen and stashed at least $10 billion in banks around the world. The British government called the PLO “the richest of all terrorist organizations.”
In early 2000, The Daily Telegraph reported that the PLO held $8 billion in stolen money hidden in secret bank accounts in New York, Geneva and Zurich. In addition, the British newspaper unearthed further clandestine holdings of the PLO — including real estate in Europe, and shares in Mercedes-Benz and national airlines — totaling about $50 billion for the year 2000.
Even other Arab nations have recognized the theft of humanitarian aid by Arafat. In 2000, Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, pledged $1 billion to the P.A. to ease the economic hardship of the Palestinian people. In exchange, these countries demanded that Arafat provide a detailed report on how the money would be spent. Arafat refused to comply, and the Arab leaders suspended transfer of aid to the Palestinian people.
It appears these Muslim leaders have had enough of Arafat. Recently, a Kuwaiti state-controlled newspaper reported Arafat had deposited $5.1 million into his personal account — to support his wife and daughter in Europe. According to the same report, the money came from Arab aid funds that had been allocated for the Palestinian people.
This corruption and moral bankruptcy is why so many American Jews reacted so negatively to Gephardt’s comments about increased funding in the Middle East. The problems in the Middle East stem not from a lack of money, but rather from a lack of compassion and honesty by Arafat and other corrupt Arab leaders. American aid or well-meaning volunteers will not change that simple and immutable fact. The world has been funding the Middle East, through strongmen like Arafat, and that money has been systematically stolen for generations.
What will benefit the United States, Israel and the Middle East the most is to stay on the course set by the president. There must be a change in the political leadership of the P.A. and in several Middle East countries before any real change can occur.
To that end, we must starve these dictators of their source of power — unlimited cash that buys weapons, funds terrorist armies and kills reform. Every dollar we send to corrupt groups such as the P.A. kills any hope for peace.
Bush’s hard-line approach to dealing with Arafat not only shows his complete commitment to Israel as a Jewish state, but also shows a common sense understanding about the region. The Bush doctrine will create change and bring peace, if we in America have the courage and foresight to stand with him and our allies in the Middle East.