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Contentions

The Islamist Winter and Middle East Peace

Anyone inclined to be sanguine about the future of Palestinian politics need only read the latest report by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh to understand that the threat of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank is real. The Fatah-Hamas unity agreement concluded last year may not yet have been consummated but, as Abu Toameh writes, even Fatah officials are starting to understand that if they allow another election, the Islamists may take control of all of the territories just as their Muslim Brotherhood allies have done in Egypt. According to Abu Toameh, Fatah officials are now openly expressing worry about the outcome of these elections, assuming they are held in May as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has promised.

No one should be holding their breath waiting for Abbas to make good on that pledge. Given that he is in now about to start the 8th year of the four-year-term to which he was elected in 2005, Abbas’s idea of democracy is limited to elections that he thinks he’ll win. Yet the pact he signed with Hamas last year is an indication he believes he cannot govern indefinitely without the protection of the radical terrorist group. That’s a piece of intelligence that should inform not only Fatah, but those in the United States that are urging Israel to make further concessions to the Palestinians in the vain hope they will finally agree to make peace.

It is possible to disagree about the current extent of the PA’s moderation but there should be no uncertainty about what a Palestinian government that included Hamas would mean. As reluctant as Abbas and Fatah have been to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, we know that Hamas will never make peace with Israel or give up its war to eradicate it for long.

The problem is not, as many Americans, including those who count themselves as Israel’s friends, that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been forthcoming enough to satisfy the Palestinians. It is that Palestinian public opinion is such that no PA government, whether run by Abbas or Hamas, can afford to accept the Palestinian state that Israel has been offering for more than a decade. What is needed is not more pressure to make Israel bow to Palestinian demands but pressure on the Palestinians — which can be exerted via the aid the West gives the PA — to make them understand that their only choice is between peace and utter ruin.

The Arab Spring that many hoped would bring democracy to the Muslim world has morphed into an Islamist Winter that promises nothing but sorrow and future conflict. If the Palestinians, like the voters of Egypt, ultimately choose to embrace radical Islamists, there is not much the West can do to stop them. But they can draw the proper conclusions from this turn of events and forebear from policies that are based on the assumption that the Palestinians still desire peace with Israel. This is especially true for an Obama administration that is still beguiled by the chimera of a peace accord that the Palestinians clearly have no intention of signing no matter where it might place Israel’s borders.


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