Is it political conjunctivitis, lack of humanity... or both?

Here we go again, resorting to America’s weapon of choice in foreign policy: economic sanctions! A powerful weapon that while intending [or pretending] to fight dictators, rogue nations and terrorists, it ultimately ends up being anti-people; a robotic peddler of punishment against the innocent, the poor and the weak: a neutron bomb of sorts that does not have to answer anti-nuclear criticism. US government leaders have done it (still do it) to Cuba; to Iraq, after the Gulf War… and the sights are now set on those “unruly” Palestinians – undoubtedly, as payback for their impudence in democratically electing a Hamas leadership.

These Palestinians… what a display of audacity… now they’ll learn! We warned them; we told them that democracy implies following an “acceptable” course, and that Hamas’ candidates on the ballot, including those in Israeli jails, were just for show. So, it should come as no surprise to see the Junior Bush threatening the Palestinian Authority with a sanctions’ Big Stick; and, of course, bringing the European vassalage to follow course.

Not that America’s previous three presidents were slow on the “sanctions draw,” but the cowboy now in charge of this not-ok corral is taking this sanctions’ issue to the point of diplomatic idiocy. This self-appointed sheriff of the West is about to draw his six-shooter and, once again, shoot himself in the foot.

Let’s be real, Hamas’ leaders are now the representatives of the Palestinian people. Not only that. Under duress, insults and contempt from US and Israeli quarters, they are conducting themselves with a calmness that defies every nickname we, in the West, have bestowed on them. While Hamas is showing verbal restraint and accommodation, Bush is displaying, for the umpteenth time in his presidency, a severe case of political “pink eye.” This conjunctivitis has become almost chronic, and anything in the foreign realm that tests the arrogance of this president, no matter how slight, becomes an irritant that triggers this ophthalmologic condition in how he sees the world.

Perhaps the withholding by Israel of funds earned by Palestinians from customs and tax revue (approximately $50 million per month) was something expected, as it was placing restrictions on the movement of Hamas elected officials through Israeli checkpoints. But for the US to reinforce such virulent actions by Israel’s government, instead of providing an arbitral role with a conciliatory tone, is just adding fuel to a smoldering situation that not long ago appeared to be on the path of resolution.

If there ever was a time when sanctions could have a totally opposite effect to that intended, this is it. No better time than the present to sow the seeds for peace; now that all parties can take their places at the table without special invitation. Never before could all Palestinian voices be heard; directly, without proxy.

And if this is an excellent opportunity for all-inclusive dialogue, how can anyone think of sanctions, or any type of coercive measures? Perhaps some could rationalize Israel’s behavior… but Bush’s? Palestinians should not only have access to their own money (withheld by Israel), but also be afforded all the possible economic/humanitarian assistance from the UN, the US and the EU: all assistance to be meted without unnecessary symbolism or denigration of Hamas. No face-saving games sure to backfire… simply respect the Palestinians’ wishes and be upfront with Hamas.

One would think that sanctions, by their nature, should be reserved as a weapon of last resort, and not a tool of “unwelcome encouragement.” In affairs of state, forced encouragement, by whatever name, has seldom worked in the short term… with the prospects even dimmer for the long term.

Failure, however, will not be limited to a political impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but will extend far beyond that. There’s little question that sanctions will also have a crippling effect on an already weak economy, and bring to a halt the much-needed buildup of Palestine’s infrastructure. Although it’s unlikely that matters will be allowed to reach the level of genocide inflicted on Iraq, it will be sufficiently damaging to crush the fragile hope that had been building up in Palestinians during recent times.

If sanctions go beyond the threat-stage, and materialize, the world might as well say farewell to the peace process and accept responsibility for the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people. But, will we care? One still remembers back in 1996, when Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, was confronted by a major TV news magazine (Sixty Minutes) with UNICEF’s figure of one-half million Iraqi children under five dead as a consequence of the UN Security Council sanctions [at the behest of the US], and her reply: “We think the price is worth it.”

Few Americans then flinched at that infamous comment. Have we grown in our humanity since then? One would hope we have.