Abbas Gets Money, Support — and Distrust

Hamas, led by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, has been locked in a power struggle

Hamas, led by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya (above), has been locked in a power struggle with President Abbas and his Fatah party. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

The United States has so far publicly committed $86 million dollars to help train and equip President Mahmoud Abbas's presidential guard, along with up to $42 million to promote alternatives to Hamas.

The funds, which haven't been approved by Congress, are central to American efforts to bolster Palestinian moderates to counter the Islamists. Hamas calls it coup money.

Even some Abbas supporters say the funds could make him look like "an American collaborator."

Friday, Israel finished transferring a big sum of money to Abbas — $100 million of the more than $400 million in Palestinian tax revenue Israel collects. It has been withheld since Hamas gained control of the Palestinian government last year.

Since Hamas swept parliamentary elections one year ago, the Bush administration has moved to try to bolster Mahmoud Abbas politically, diplomatically and militarily, by attempting to reform Abbas' Presidential Guard and other forces loyal to the president.

Pending likely congressional approval, the U.S. effort to support Abbas will soon include some $86 million to help train and supply his security men with "non lethal" aid.

The Palestinian Presidential Guard is controlled by Fatah, the movement led by Abbas, and many members of the legitimate security forces often moonlight in lawless and unaccountable militias. They are now embroiled in a bloody internal power struggle with militant gunmen from rival Hamas.

Many Fatah men are calling for heavier firepower to take on Hamas. Every shooting prompts vows of revenge.

Many Palestinian moderates say that it is an incredibly bad time to overtly shift Western funds to Abbas for security forces. Political analyst Bassem Zubeide of Bier Zeit University says Abbas runs a real risk of playing into Hamas' hands and appearing like a tool of the West.

"Most Palestinians will think that the United States is getting heavily involved," Zubeide says, "and that will definitely weaken the Abbas point of view."

U.S. officials stress that American money will not go to buy weapons, that Abbas will receive boots, radios, uniforms and the like — not bullets or rifles. But weapons can come in the back door, too. In 2006, the United States gave several billion dollars in military aid to close friends of Abbas, the governments of Egypt and Jordan.

Analysts believe those countries could directly provide Abbas with weaponry. Fatah recently denied reports that Egypt, with Israel's blessing, shipped a huge supply of rifles and ammunition to Abbas's forces in Gaza.

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