Israel’s decision to ease the restrictions on nonmilitary goods let into Hamas-controlled Gaza earned the Obama administration’s praise yesterday. The White House coupled its approval with the announcement of the rescheduling of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the president, which will, we don’t doubt, be more cordial than the brusque reception he got the last time he ventured into Obama’s presence.
Given Israel’s almost complete diplomatic isolation, Netanyahu’s move was probably an unavoidable response to an impossible situation. If Israel is to have any hope of maintaining its shaky alliance with the United States during Obama’s term in office, Netanyahu knows that he must do what he can to appease the White House’s appetite for Israeli concessions. If letting in luxury items — as opposed to the basic food and medicine already flowing unimpeded into Gaza — was the price for retaining American support for the naval blockade of the Hamas-run entity and avoiding an Obama endorsement for an international kangaroo court in which Israel’s actions would be judged, then it can be argued that what Netanyahu has conceded will not alter the strategic balance in favor of the Islamist terrorist group.
But no one should be under the impression that such a move will moderate international criticism of the Jewish state. With the secretary-general of the United Nations as well as the International Red Cross condemning the blockade as a matter of principle, it’s clear that international opinion has reached a tipping point in terms of the legitimizing the Hamas regime. The United States has not gone that far in terms of its public stance on the situation and the pressure it has exerted upon Israel, but the White House needs to understand that the price it has forced Israel to pay for Obama’s “goodwill” in fact will undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Forcing Israel to loosen the blockade will be rightly seen as a victory for Hamas. Indeed, it’s hard to argue with Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoabi — who was aboard the Turkish-backed flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces earlier this month — when she crowed that Israel’s announcement was a victory for those who sought to break the blockade. “This is the beginning of the total collapse of the siege,” she told Ynet News yesterday. While she may be a bit premature about that, there is no doubt that Hamas will be strengthened and the Palestinian Authority will be further weakened. Indeed, as Marc Lynch claims, writing at Foreign Policy’s blog, the Israeli concession might revive Palestinian “reconciliation” talks in which Fatah and Hamas will join in a united front against Israel, which is a guarantee of future bloodshed, not a peace deal.
The White House may think itself quite clever today as it can tell the Palestinians and the international community that it has successfully pressured Israel into giving in on Gaza while at the same time assuring Israel’s American supporters that it has the Jewish state’s back on the flotilla incident. But if the result of this exercise is a stronger Hamas regime and a weaker Palestinian Authority — which may now feel compelled to join forces with the Islamists — then it is Obama and the United States that are as much the loser as Israel. By granting an unnecessary victory to Iran’s ally Hamas and making it even less likely that the PA will be able to resist Hamas’s pressure to not make a peace deal with Israel, then the outcome here is a less stable and probably more violent region as well as doomed hopes for a two-state solution. For all the mendacious arguments from Israel’s critics about the Jewish state becoming a strategic liability, it is Obama’s instinctual desire to appease Hamas that may do more to harm America’s interests than anything Washington has done to support Israel.