Commentary Magazine


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Obama Must Act to Stop Hamas-Fatah Deal

President Obama and his cheerleaders in the media may be fed up with Israel and its democratically elected government, but the Palestinian Authority appears to be about to take one step closer to effectively ending all hope for peace in the foreseeable future. Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to a key concession that will solidify the Hamas-Fatah unity pact first signed in May. The result will guarantee a strong Hamas role in the new Palestinian government that will ensure it will be impossible for the PA to agree to any deal with Israel, no matter what concessions are forced out of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or where Israel’s borders might be drawn.

One of the key holdups to a Hamas-Fatah unity government was Hamas’ insistence Abbas dump Salam Fayyad as prime minister. Fayyad is widely respected in the West for his fight against corruption, his efforts to build a viable Palestinian economy and his attempt to crack down on terrorism with the aid of U.S.-trained security personnel. According to Abu Toameh, in secret talks with Hamas in Cairo, Abbas has finally agreed that Fayyad will be forced out, setting in motion a new wave of government graft as well as making it easier for Hamas to organize itself on the West Bank. This will not only doom the Palestinians to a new era of misrule but also cut the legs out of from anyone arguing that the United States should continue to pour aid into the coffers of the PA.

As I predicted in September, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority’s foolish attempt to bypass negotiations and seek statehood from the United Nations without first making peace with Israel has strengthened Hamas. Though Israel’s critics said it was about to face a diplomatic “tsunami” from the PA’s UN gambit, Abbas was the real victim of his own ploy.

Some will attempt to blame the unity pact on Israel. They will say if Israel had only frozen settlements and given in to the Palestinians on borders and the future of Jerusalem, Abbas would not have been forced to deal with Hamas. But such assertions distort the facts. Abbas has always had a choice between making peace with Israel or Hamas. He chose the latter, because he knew the culture of Palestinian politics was such that his people would not accept any deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. That is why he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state in 2008 just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected one in 2000 and 2001. It is also why he refused to negotiate with Israel even during the period that Netanyahu froze settlement building in 2010. The only way he could accept a state was by a UN fiat that bypasses recognition of Israel.

The rule of Hamas in Gaza, where it has imposed its will since a bloody coup in 2006, reflects the true face of Palestinian statehood. Though the vast majority of Israelis would gladly agree to a two-state solution that would entail great sacrifices for their country, they know allowing Hamas to replicate its terrorist state in the West Bank would only lead to an upsurge in terrorism and more bloodshed. The notion that they will agree to any concessions on land to a PA where Hamas has the whip hand is absurd.

The unity pact also demonstrates the bankruptcy of President Obama’s Middle East diplomacy. By focusing almost exclusively on trying to badger Netanyahu into concessions on the 1967 borders and settlements, Obama has only reinforced Palestinian intransigence and set the stage for Hamas to gain ground.

It should also be understood that allowing Hamas to get a foothold in the PA has implications for the region as well as the peace process. Hamas is an Iranian ally. A victory for them undermines moderate Arabs everywhere.

But it is not too late for the president to start using the considerable leverage he still holds over Abbas. Were Obama to tell Abbas that if he dumps Fayyad, he will lose every penny of the hundreds of millions of dollars he gets from the U.S. annually and that Washington will work to cut off every other avenue of aid, that would get the PA’s attention. Only by cracking down hard on the PA now is there any hope for averting a deal that will expand the influence of Iran’s Islamist terrorist auxiliaries.