Last month, a group of international donors including the United States gathered in Cairo to make pledges to give financial aid to help rebuild Gaza in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas this past summer.
The amount pledged totaled $5.4 billion with the U.S. kicking in a few hundred million. The bulk of the money will go to aid organizations with the Palestinian Authority also getting a share.
While the world was told that all the money would be used for civilian purposes and to help those who lost their homes in the fighting, there was little doubt that the Hamas rulers of the strip would wind up getting their hands on a good deal of it. But the most curious thing about this exercise in international philanthropy was that no one thought to ask Hamas to pay for at least some of the damage they caused by igniting a bloody war.
That's the question that comes to mind today when you read that the Islamists have been named the world's second-richest terrorist group.
According to Forbes Israel, Hamas is the runner-up to ISIS in the competition for the title of wealthiest terror organization. ISIS has $2 billion in assets while Hamas has only $1 billion. The former's advantage is that it is now in control of some of Iraq's oil flow and pulls in up to $3 million a day in revenue from that lucrative business. ISIS also was able to loot hundreds of millions from Mosul's main bank when it seized that city.
It also profits from the brisk trade in hostage ransoms with European nations anteing up large sums to save its citizens in ISIS's hands. To its credit, the Obama administration has refused to play along, a principled policy that has led to the brutal murders of American captives.
Hamas has no oil fields or banks at its disposal. But it has something almost as good: An overpopulated strip of land where more than a million people live at their misery.
Though Hamas long maintained an image as an efficient provider of social services to the people of Gaza, the reality is that it islike its Fatah rivals in the West Bankmore akin to a mafia family than a government and rakes in money extorted or taxed from Gazans hand over fist.
Hamas also profited handsomely from control of the smuggling tunnels that used to link Gaza to Egypt and also rakes in huge amounts of aid from its Gulf State patrons like Qatar.
Since Fatah now masquerades as a legitimate government and even a peace partner in the West Bank, it was not listed. But if it were, it's likely that the considerable assets of this supposedly reformed terror group would also be considerable, considering the amount of money it and its leaders have looted from the billions in international aid that have poured into them since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
But the minutiae about which of these groups has the most cash ignores the more pertinent question about Gaza. While the West has committed itself to waging a half-hearted war to "degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS" in President Obama's words, it has chosen to tolerate Hamas and let it remain in control of Gaza, even if it meant condemning a large civilian population to be used as human shields for its terror operations. And it has been allowed to save or re-invest its considerable fortune in rearming its cadres and rebuilding its defenses in the aftermath of the terrorist war it launched this year.
The world looks at the ruined homes of Gaza and rightly expresses its sympathy and its desire to help its people.
But the problem with the international aid process is not merely that it is not likely to keep all of the billions coming in out of the clutches of Hamas. It is that so long as we are prepared to tolerate Hamas's continued sovereignty over the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, more war and bloodshed is likely to ensue.
The threat from ISIS as it seeks to overrun all of Iraq and Syria is one that the U.S. and its allies needed to address. But the danger of allowing terrorist groups to become rulers of populations is not limited to those places with oil.
In the absence of a commitment to overthrow Hamas, money donated to Gaza is an investment in future war, not peace or humanitarian values.
Its place on the list of wealthiest terror group mocks the West as much as it does the Palestinians who suffer under their rule.