WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition as a nonmember state – a move that’s expected to succeed despite strident U.S. opposition – the Obama administration’s policy conundrum over the Palestinians appears stark.
On one hand, the U.S. government is publicly lambasting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who’s part of the secular Fatah movement that controls the West Bank, for his appeal to U.N. members on Thursday. On the other, U.S. policy bars contact with the Islamist militants of Hamas, the faction in control of the Gaza Strip and which the United States considers a terrorist group.
Analysts say this “fundamentally flawed” U.S. stance toward the Palestinians would require a miracle breakthrough – such as a sudden shift in Israeli policy or an equally improbable U.S. rapprochement with regional player Iran – for the Obama administration to rejuvenate peace talks as a broker respected by all sides.
“You haven’t helped out Abbas nearly enough and yet you won’t talk to Hamas, so who does that leave you with in the Palestinian leadership?” said Rafael Frankel, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington whose research focuses on Israel and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah. “It’s a shortsighted, misguided policy. The United States has left itself in a position of basically having no leverage or ability to negotiate with the Palestinian side at all.”
Instead, observers of the conflict say, the near future portends an extension of the Palestinian status quo of statelessness: worsening living conditions, limited mobility and internecine political rifts. And those internal divisions are only likely to deepen now that Hamas has emerged as the stronger Palestinian political force, supported by U.S. allies Egypt, Qatar and Turkey.
If the U.S. won’t back Abbas’ U.N. bid, which some analysts said will have little practical effect, then it certainly wouldn’t risk an even bolder move such as talking to Hamas, especially with President Barack Obama trying to avoid divisive issues as he seeks broad supports for a fiscal cliff compromise.
“I don’t understand the philosophy here: This is a relatively harmless initiative, an attempt by Abbas to divert the attention from the strength of his political opponents,” said Mark Perry, who has close contact with Hamas and whose book, “Talking to Terrorists,” promotes a controversial strategy of U.S. engagement with militants.
“The administration can’t oppose the Palestinians on every single thing all the time,” Perry said. “Once again, we’re going to end up in a forum in which we stand alone with Israel and no one else except maybe Micronesia.”
The U.S. opposition to Abbas’ move plays to the advantage of Hamas, which would appear to be riding high these days, racking up a public relations victory in Israel’s bloody Gaza offensive, a political ascent via the Muslim Brotherhood allies in charge of Egypt next door, and a financial boost from Persian Gulf friends such as Qatar, whose ruler recently pledged $400 million for development in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
“It’s a strategic win of some magnitude for Hamas,” Perry said.