January 23, 2006
U.S. Spent $1.9 Million to Aid Fatah in Palestinian Elections
By STEVEN ERLANGER
JERUSALEM, Jan. 22 - The United States spent about $1.9 million of its yearly $400 million in aid to the Palestinians on dozens of quick projects before elections this week to bolster the governing Fatah faction's image with voters and strengthen its hand in competing with the militant faction Hamas, American and Palestinian officials said Sunday.
The spending was intended "to work with the Palestinian Authority to enhance democratic institutions and support democratic actors, not just Fatah," said Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, a spokeswoman for the American consulate in East Jerusalem. The program, run by the United States Agency for International Development, was described Sunday in The Washington Post.
American and Palestinian officials who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to reporters said that the program, which started in August, was intended to help defeat Hamas and that the government had done a detailed political analysis to try to focus on constituencies where Hamas was doing well. The international development agency's Office of Transition Initiatives was allowed as much as $30,000 in discretionary spending for each project instead of the $10,000 usually allotted.
The projects - including tree planting, schoolroom additions, a soccer tournament, street cleaning and computers at community centers - were coordinated with President Mahmoud Abbas and meant to be associated with him and the Palestinian Authority, which is run by Fatah. Although American aid was always acknowledged publicly, Ms. Schweitzer-Bluhm said, "our logo was not always on the banner."
A senior Palestinian official said many of the 45 projects aimed at Gaza were not carried out; the procurement bureaucracy proved difficult; and the projects had little or no impact on municipal voting, where Hamas did very well. Mr. Abbas was reluctant to show up to claim credit for the projects, the official said.
"Working with democracies and democratic parties is normal for the U.S. government all around the world," Ms. Schweiter-Bluhm said.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet met to discuss policy toward the Palestinian Authority should Hamas do well or even win in elections on Wednesday for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Israel says it will refuse to deal with Hamas, which it, the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group that seeks the destruction of Israel. If Hamas wins, Israel might even stop paying the Palestinian Authority the taxes it collects on its behalf, the daily Yediot Aharonot reported.
Hamas, running for the first time in Palestinian Authority elections, says that it is prepared to consider a long-term truce with Israel within its 1967 boundaries. But it rejects the 1993 Oslo accords and a permanent two-state solution.
Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, warned Sunday that violence could follow the Palestinian vote, especially if Hamas won, suggesting that the ruling Fatah faction might resist the results. "We have to prepare for the possibility of an escalation with the Palestinians, for the next round of violence," he said in a speech to a security conference in Herzliya.
On Saturday night, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel could act alone if the elections produced a Palestinian Authority that was not "a legitimate and effective partner" for peace talks. If so, Israel would continue to seek "to establish defensible borders, strengthen settlement blocs, keep Jerusalem undivided, including its surrounding area, and demilitarize the Palestinian territory," code for Israeli Army sweeps.
Mr. Mofaz also warned Iran that Israel would not tolerate an Iran with nuclear arms: "We are giving priority at this stage to diplomatic action. But in any case we cannot tolerate a nuclear option for Iran, and we must prepare ourselves."
Israel has nuclear weapons but does not say so. Mr. Mofaz, who was born in Iran, is a member of the Kadima Party, which is led by Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister.
In the Palestinian election, Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned leader of the Fatah list, was allowed by Israel to give interviews to the Arab satellite stations Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, each popular with Palestinians. He called for a large turnout and repeated his prediction that Hamas and Fatah "are heading toward being partners in the field, and in Parliament." He called for "a broad national reform government with the participation of all."
But Nabil Shaath, a Fatah veteran, suggested that it would form a coalition with independents, leaving Hamas in opposition. "With Hamas, it will be very difficult to reach a joint program" that includes negotiations with Israel, he said.
In Gaza City, at least one person was killed and two were wounded when a car exploded Sunday. A militant group accused Israel of trying to kill its fighters, but the Israeli Army denied involvement in the blast. It said that it had carried out an airstrike on three gunmen it believed had been trying to enter Israel near Karni, and that at least one man had been killed.
* Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company