In a ceremony broadcast live across the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was formally buried. The event, which formalized the unity pact between the Fatah Party and its Hamas rival, marked the formation of a new Palestinian Authority government in which both factions would share power. PA President Mahmoud Abbas will also assume the role of prime minister, ousting Salam Fayyad, the pro-peace and development technocrat who had earned the trust of the West for his efforts to build the Palestinian economy and enforce the rule of law. But Fayyad’s role in the PA is now over, as is, apparently, Abbas’s pretense that he, too, favored peace and development.
There will be those apologists for the Palestinians who will say unity was necessary for peace and even claim this means Hamas is abandoning violence. But they will be either lying or deceiving themselves. Hamas’s goal of Israel’s destruction is unchanged as is, it should be noted, that of their erstwhile Fatah enemies. By signing the pact and now making it a reality, Abbas has for all intents and purposes torn up the Oslo Peace Accords, signed with such hope on the White House Lawn in September 1993.
Oslo required the Palestinians to give up violence and dedicate themselves to peace and establishing a civil society in exchange for rule over the West Bank and Gaza and the implicit promise of independence. This PLO leader Yasir Arafat did not do. He nurtured terrorists among his own ranks even as he jealously guarded his power against rivals like Hamas. The choice for the Palestinians was clear. Their leaders could act to wipe out those who opposed peace and therefore seal a plan of coexistence with Israel or they could fail to do so and condemn both peoples to another generation or more of conflict. Arafat, who was offered an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001, refused to accept it, and instead chose another round of conflict via the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada.
Abbas, his successor, turned down another such offer in 2008. Since then, he has refused to negotiate with Israel and has now preferred the embrace of the Islamists of Hamas to that of the West and Israel from whom he could have won independence and peace. While belief in the peace process has been the stuff of fantasy for many years, the consummation of the Fatah-Hamas marriage of convenience marks the formal burial of the idea that the Palestinians had any interest in peace with Israel.
The talk of Hamas changing from an Islamist terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction and the murder of its Jewish population into a non-violent political group is as genuine as the similar rationalizations that were put forward in the 1990s for Arafat. Bringing Hamas into the PA government means an end to all pretense of hope for peace. There were, after all, never any real differences between the two on the ultimate objective of eliminating Israel. Fatah was no more capable of signing a peace deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, than Hamas. The influence of the Islamists will now spread from Gaza to the West Bank, renewing the threat of terrorism from that region that Israel’s security fence had largely eliminated.
The Palestinians are counting on both the Europeans and the Obama administration to bend to their desires and keep Western aid flowing to the PA. They believe the West is so committed to its illusions about Palestinian moderation that they will flout their own laws that forbid the transfer of funds to terror groups and those governments they have infiltrated. They also hope the knee-jerk impulse to blame Israel for everything that happens in the Middle East will overwhelm common sense and create a new push for Israeli concessions to the Fatah-Hamas government.
No doubt there will be plenty of support for such a policy from so-called realists and other veteran peace processers who would compromise their own principles rather than admit they were wrong about the Palestinian desire for peace.
Obama has been the most pro-Palestinian of any American president. But his efforts to help them have been rewarded with the same contempt that more pro-Israel administrations have gotten from the PA. If Obama has a shred of common sense or dignity left, he will make it clear to the Palestinians that they have effectively cut themselves off from American aid and a path to independence. Anything else would constitute a U.S. repudiation of Oslo. If Abbas chooses peace with Hamas over peace with Israel then he must be made to understand he will pay a high price for this decision.