The Post reported “Rival Palestinian political factions on Wednesday announced a surprise reconciliation deal and plans for a unified government, upending U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel just days before a deadline to end or extend the most substantive negotiations in years. The deal would reunite the moderate Fatah faction in the West Bank, which has been negotiating with Israel, with the radical Hamas faction, which refuses to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. Hamas is blamed for allowing near-daily rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip territory it controls.” (It is not just blamed; it is actually launching the attacks.)
How does the State Department react? You know this is going to be bad, and it is: “We'll be watching what steps are taken, but this certainly is disappointing and raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations.” Thunk. Disappointing? That is one way to put it. But the notion that it could disrupt nonexistent negotiations or that the negotiations had been “the most substantive” in years is farcical.
An official at a pro-Israel organization put it more accurately: “The Hamas-PLO reconciliation is nothing but a direct affront to Secretary (John) Kerry’s efforts. (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas made a revealing choice — rather than choosing peace with a democratic neighbor he decided to align with murderous, terrorist, Jihadist Islamists. Abbas celebrates the release of terrorists and luxuriates in the alliance with them.”
What is more, the administration should do what it failed to do last time — follow American law and cut off aid now that the Palestinian Authority is in league with a terrorist organization. It is unsurprising that Abbas has tried this again; he paid no price last time he announced a unity government. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams explains:
“I am aware of the legalistic argument against this view: ‘No, no. Israel is formally negotiating with the PLO, you see, and Hamas is still not in the PLO, so the Palestinian Authority can be a coalition of Fatah and Hamas but Israel can still just negotiate with Fatah through the PLO.’
“It seems like nonsense to me. One goal of the new unity government agreement would be to hold elections, by December it is reported, and we may then be right back where we were in 2006. Then, Hamas ran in and won the legislative elections, and our counter-terrorism laws and our principles prevented us from working with a Hamas-dominated government. This could happen again. But even if Hamas does not win a majority, it will have members of the Palestinian parliament and presumably have government ministers with whom we cannot work or even meet.”
Abrams acknowledges that it was a mistake for the George W. Bush administration to allow Hamas to run for election in 2006 and “the United States should not repeat the error we made in 2006.”
Other Middle East experts agree that the United States cannot conduct business as usual so long as Abbas has signed up with Hamas. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said in an email:
“Abbas has threatened to join hands with Hamas several times over the years. Each time, the two sides have failed to implement. So, it’s important to remember that even though an agreement is signed, that doesn’t mean that Abbas will implement it. If Abbas pulls the trigger and brings Hamas into the PLO/PA fold, it would signal an immediate end for U.S. financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority and would almost certainly prompt a re-designation of the PLO (as a terrorist group).”
Even if Abbas doesn’t mesh the PA and Hamas, it certainly is a clarifying moment. “But even if he doesn’t pull the trigger, Abbas has now sent a dangerous message — that Hamas’ violence and radical ideology is acceptable to the PLO,” says Schanzer. “The whole episode raises questions about the diplomatic foundations of this recent round of peace talks, not to mention whether Abbas was a viable peace partner (in) the first place.”
We think back to the interview President Barack Obama gave before the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he railed at Israel, accused Israel of not making compromises for peace and declared that the United States couldn’t be expected to defend Israel if the peace talks failed. How divorced from reality was that? Not only does Abbas’s move reveal his lack of peaceful intentions, it confirms how out to lunch Obama and Kerry were to imagine a deal was in the offing. The harping on Israel’s housing projects as the barrier to peace now can be seen as entirely misplaced.
Did the president’s hostility toward Israel lead him to distort entirely the situation in the region? I hope Hillary Rodham Clinton answers that in her book and explains how she too got the “peace process” so wrong for so long.
© 2014, The Washington Post