Yesterday, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said his government had succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to give up trying to “solve” the conflict with the Palestinians and instead concentrate on just “managing” it. If Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon is right, that’s a major achievement, because Washington’s obsession with forcing Israel to make futile concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in negotiations or a final settlement of the conflict has caused unnecessary friction between the two nations.
There is some doubt about whether Ya’alon’s boast is true, but even if it is, it comes a little late. With Hamas being welcomed in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA and with Fatah leaders now saying they will formally annul their Oslo Accord commitments, Israel and the U.S. must worry about the West Bank becoming another Gaza. Having spent the first three years of his presidency doing his best to egg the Palestinians on to be even more intransigent, the downward spiral of their political culture has created even more problems for the United States to manage.
The tough talk from the PA might be generously interpreted as mere posturing, but with Fatah now formally in bed with Hamas and with the PA’s pragmatic Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on borrowed time, there is good reason for the West to fear that Palestinian unity will mean that the supposedly “moderate” Fatah has joined Hamas rather than the other way around.
In his remarks, Ya’alon, a former top Israeli general, rightly noted that it has taken a while for Obama’s foreign policy team to understand that, contrary to the president’s May speech about the 1967 lines, the conflict is not about borders but about the Palestinian intent to destroy Israel. Ya’alon may be a bit optimistic about Obama’s Middle East learning curve as the administration has already drafted guidelines for the diplomatic quartet that seem infused with the same foolish focus on Israeli concessions. But the Hamas-Fatah pact is showing that the conflict may have gone to a different level, rendering the quartet’s peace push irrelevant. The embrace of Hamas shows that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has conclusively dropped even the pretense of seeking peace with Israel. What follows may not be so much a process to be managed as a powder keg that needs to be defused as Palestinians drift under the sway of the Islamist allies of the Muslim Brotherhood.