One of the enduring images of the post-9/11 agony was the way that many Palestinians cheered the news of the terrorist attacks. Veteran terrorist Yasir Arafat soon ordered an end to the demonstrations in Gaza and elsewhere but the willingness of Palestinians to identify with al Qaeda atrocities resonated for many Americans, including President George W. Bush, who challenged the world to declare which they side they were on in the conflict between America and terrorism.
It is worth remembering the Palestinian reaction to 9/11 on the morning after Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. forces because a triumphant President Obama must soon make a critical decision that affects the future of a terrorist ally of bin Laden. The United States has always and quite rightly insisted that Hamas must be treated as a terrorist group, not a political party or a government, in spite of the fact that they are the de facto rulers of Gaza since the bloody coup in which they seized power in the strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. But by agreeing last week to join a coalition government with their Fatah rivals, Hamas is putting itself in position to benefit from the massive American aid that flows to the PA.
Many in Congress from both the Republican and Democratic parties have rightly put the Palestinians on notice that if the Fatah-Hamas alliance is signed, American financial support for the PA will cease. But the White House and the State Department, though mildly critical of the pact, have yet to enunciate the administration’s determination to go along with the will of Congress on this issue.
There’s not much doubt that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah followers have interpreted the events of the Arab Spring, especially the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as a sign that their brand of “moderation” and accommodation with the West is losing support in the region. The increased influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Hamas sprang, in Egypt was a major factor behind Abbas’s decision to embrace his deadly Hamas foes, even though doing so must undermine Western support for his bid for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state. Hamas’s presence in a Palestinian government dooms the already virtually non-existent chances that the PA will ever make peace with Israel.
A PA spokesman endorsed bin Laden’s killing but Hamas condemned the operation as an “assassination” mourned bin Laden as a “holy warrior.” Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza told reporters today, “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
Though there will be some who will attempt to argue that the continuation of American aid to the PA must continue despite the alliance with Hamas and that the flow of money can be controlled so it will not go directly to the terrorists, this is nonsense. American acquiescence to a Hamas role in the Palestinian Authority will be a signal to the Arab and Islamic world that despite bin Laden’s death, America is willing to bend to terrorists. President Obama must make it plain to Abbas that his alliance with bin Laden’s friends means that U.S. support for his government is at an end.