Western governments have made it clear that they are unwilling to finance a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas, as long as Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist. This could have a serious impact on the Palestinian Authority (PA), which receives some $1.1 billion from the European Union annually, and last year received more than $70 million from the United States. In addition, donors have given a total of $6 billion over the past 11 years.
At least one Arab columnist has suggested that Tehran could be an alternative source of financing, because it has been more resolute on the Palestinian question than Arab governments have been.
"We're looking to Hamas to renounce violence," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on 30 January. "We also want to see Hamas recognize the reality of the two-state solution endorsed by the Security Council of the United Nations."
"If Europe does not want to send money to Hamas, let Hamas go to Iran. Let it take money from Iran if the Arabs do not want to give it the money."
Speaking on January, President George W. Bush said that "the Hamas party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel to exist. And I have made it clear, so long as that is their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas."
Meanwhile, according to Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), "reliable Palestinian sources close to Hamas" said on 31 January that European and U.S. diplomats have met with Hamas leaders both secretly and publicly. IRNA reported that at least five such meetings have taken place since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections on 25 January, including one between three former U.S. ambassadors and Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, a Hamas leader elected to the Palestinian assembly.
These meetings were presumably made in an effort to persuade Hamas to modify its stance. Nevertheless, Hamas has remained defiant. The "New York Times" reports that Hamas's bureau chief in the Syrian capital Damascus, Khalid Mishaal, said on 28 January that Hamas will not recognize Israel. Scholars and experts on Hamas told the newspaper that the organization is extremely unlikely to give up its beliefs and stated positions -- including the call for Israel's destruction and the Islamization of Palestine.
The satellite television station Al-Jazeera reported a senior figure in Hamas, Musa Abu Marzuk, as saying on 29 January that the organization will not accept Western demands that it renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel. But Abu Marzuk rejected the suggestion that Hamas must either compromise with the West or join the camp of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah. "You know very well that we are open to both East and West," Abu Marzuk told his interviewer. "We are open in our relations to this camp that you have called the other camp. We are also open to the West... The question of Palestine needs everyone."
A Call For Funding
Meanwhile, a 30 January article in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Quds al-Arabi" by editor in chief Abd al-Bari Atwan said the U.S. threat to end its financial support for the Palestinian Authority is "the worst kind of political blackmail." An aid cutoff could create problems in delivering services to the Palestinians, the article continued, adding that there are alternatives. "These might be Iran, which wants to plant a stronger foot in Palestine against the U.S. threats," Atwan wrote. Explaining why he would prefer to see Iranian backing for the PA, Atwan said, that "we realize that Arab regimes will not rush to help Hamas financially because they are disappointed by its victory first and because they follow Washington's orders second."
Al-Atwan made the same point on Al-Jazeera on 26 January. "As for the U.S. refusal to cooperate with Hamas, let it go to hell," he said. "Hamas does not want that cooperation. If Europe does not want to send money to Hamas, let Hamas go to Iran. Let it take money from Iran if the Arabs do not want to give it the money."
The extent of Iranian financial assistance for Hamas is not publicly known. Tehran only acknowledges the provision of moral and political support.
In an interview in 2003, Matthew Levitt, then a specialist on terrorist funding at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, estimated that Hamas received $10-20 million from Iran. A similar amount -- "we're talking about the low tens of millions of dollars," according to Levitt -- comes from the government, charities, and wealthy elites in Saudi Arabia. A third source, according to Levitt, are charities that operate in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.
Support From Tehran
Tehran hailed the Hamas victory in an official Foreign Ministry statement on 25 January. Top officials echoed that attitude in subsequent days. According to Hamas, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad phoned Khalid Mishaal on 29 January.
Iran's former president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, sent a congratulatory message to Mishaal on 30 January, adding that the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association, which he heads, was also pleased with the outcome of the elections.
"We are happy about Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections," Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, on 1 February. He said that the countries that back democracy in the Middle East -- "including America which tries to establish it in the region within its greater Middle East plan" -- must support Hamas.
Asked whether Iran provides financial support to Hamas, Larijani said "there is no doubt that we give Hamas moral support. Hamas is our friend."
Speaking at an open session of the Iranian parliament on 29 January, Parliamentary Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel hailed Hamas's victory. Haddad-Adel described this as a vote for democracy and vengeance for the Israeli assassinations of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi in 2004. Haddad-Adel said the United States must choose between backing the Palestinians or the Israelis. Subsequently, on 1 February, 210 Iranian parliamentarians released a statement praising Hamas's victory.
It is far from clear if these Iranian expressions of support will be translated into actual funding for the Palestinian Authority. It is still possible that Western powers and Hamas will reach some sort of compromise. But if such a compromise is not reached, then the government of President Ahmadinejad may find that it is not just financing Hamas but the entire Palestinian government.