Abbas Gets Money, Support — and Distrust 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.
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Abbas Gets Money, Support — and Distrust

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Abbas Gets Money, Support — and Distrust

Abbas Gets Money, Support — and Distrust

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, Israel finished transferring a big sum of money to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. It is $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. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to give Abbas the boost at a meeting back in December. The United States is also trying to help Abbas in his ongoing confrontation with Hamas.

But as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports, some analysts say the American aid effort could backfire.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Since Hamas swept parliamentary elections a year ago, the Bush administration has moved slowly to try to bolster Mahmoud Abbas politically, diplomatically and militarily by attempting to reform Abbas's presidential guard and other forces loyal to the Palestinian president.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Keith Dayton leads that U.S. effort. The three- star general says America is in it for the long haul.

KEITH DAYTON: This is very hard, slow, tedious and frustrating work and we have to be here and stay here and we can't just simply pop in and out and say our job is done.

WESTERVELT: Pending likely congressional approval, that U.S. effort will soon include some $86 million to help train and supply Abbas's security men with non-lethal aid. Speaking at an academic conference in the Israeli city of Netanya Thursday, General Dayton outlined lofty objectives for Palestinian forces.

DAYTON: The original goals are still there of smaller and more capable forces operating under the rule of law and respect for persons.

WESTERVELT: But Palestinian forces are a long way from there. The 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. They are not pondering the rule of law. They're asking friends to pass the ammunition.

Robert Malley is the Middle East director of the International Crisis Group. Abbas's forces are fragmented, politicized and chaotic. Directly funding them now, Malley says, is a mistake and may only fuel a wider civil fight.

ROBERT MALLEY: To pour in money and weapons in that kind of situation in an expedient way, without first creating a national security force, knowing where the weapons are going to go, knowing that you're not in fact inciting a civil confrontation between Hamas and Fatah, that poses real risks to Palestinian security, of course, but also to Israeli security.

WESTERVELT: You can't build a viable peace process, Malley says, on the ashes of a Palestinian civil war. He says trying to reform a disjointed force with divided loyalties and whose effectiveness is in doubt has eerie parallels to the U.S. mission training Iraqi security forces.

Lieutenant General Dayton was asked directly by reporters during a public forum yesterday if he was concerned that American funding for Abbas's men was fueling internal violence and bolstering rogue militias. General Dayton declined to respond to the question.

Many Palestinian moderates say it's 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's hands and appearing like a tool of the West.

BASSEM ZUBEIDE: Most Palestinians will think that the United States is getting heavily involved and that will definitely weaken Abbas's point of view. Abbas would like to carry on his platform, but without being seen as too close to the United States and Israel.

WESTERVELT: U.S. officials stress the money will not go to buy weapons. Abbas will receive boots, radios, uniforms and the like - not bullets or rifles. But weapons can come in the back door as well. In 2006, the U.S. gave more than a billion dollars in combined 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.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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