Commentary Magazine


Topic: Khalid Meshal

The Carter Fallout

In the aftermath of Jimmy Carter’s meetings with high-ranking Hamas officials last week, the Arab press has spoken: the former U.S. president’s mission failed miserably.

The Kuwaiti daily al-Watan observes that Carter’s prodding produced no changes in Hamas’ position on rocket attacks or Gilad Shalit, who has been held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the Hariri-owned Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal doubted that Carter could translate his pro-Palestinian intentions into meaningful results, recalling that the Camp David Accords hadn’t fulfilled Carter’s ambitions for Palestinian statehood thirty years ago. “He’s fit to run the Red Cross, but not the United States,” al-Mustaqbal concluded, calling Carter “naïve.” Even those supporting Carter’s engagement with Hamas in principle remained unconvinced. For example, though lauding Carter’s “political idealism,” an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab Elaf argued “political idealism alone is insufficient in political work.”

In short, while many believe that Hamas cannot be ignored in any forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the consensus within the Arab press appears to be that Carter is an incapable activist rather than a serious statesman.

Yet, for all his moral stupidity, it is hard to take pleasure in Carter’s failure. After all, Carter’s very public meet-and-greet with Hamas seems like a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, in the two years since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, support for engaging Hamas has become an increasingly mainstream position, endorsed by former policymakers from both Democratic and Republican administrations; The New York Times editorial board; and virtually every policy adviser for the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Moreover, sixty-four percent of Israelis support negotiating with Hamas, while Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai–acting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approvalasked Carter to deliver his request for a meeting to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal. As the Annapolis “process”–which explicitly excluded radicals–appears increasingly hopeless, calls for dealing with Hamas will likely escalate further.

Of course, none of this changes the dangers associated with engaging Hamas, most especially the fact that doing so would validate Hamas’ stubborn refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism as an effective strategy–anathema to the moderation that U.S. policy aims to promote. Policymakers must therefore focus on how Hamas can be prevented from declaring victory the next time a prominent American political figure dials Damascus. Much is at stake and, even while ventures such as Carter’s are still widely dismissed as tomfoolery, the tables may be turning.

In the aftermath of Jimmy Carter’s meetings with high-ranking Hamas officials last week, the Arab press has spoken: the former U.S. president’s mission failed miserably.

The Kuwaiti daily al-Watan observes that Carter’s prodding produced no changes in Hamas’ position on rocket attacks or Gilad Shalit, who has been held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the Hariri-owned Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal doubted that Carter could translate his pro-Palestinian intentions into meaningful results, recalling that the Camp David Accords hadn’t fulfilled Carter’s ambitions for Palestinian statehood thirty years ago. “He’s fit to run the Red Cross, but not the United States,” al-Mustaqbal concluded, calling Carter “naïve.” Even those supporting Carter’s engagement with Hamas in principle remained unconvinced. For example, though lauding Carter’s “political idealism,” an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab Elaf argued “political idealism alone is insufficient in political work.”

In short, while many believe that Hamas cannot be ignored in any forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the consensus within the Arab press appears to be that Carter is an incapable activist rather than a serious statesman.

Yet, for all his moral stupidity, it is hard to take pleasure in Carter’s failure. After all, Carter’s very public meet-and-greet with Hamas seems like a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, in the two years since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, support for engaging Hamas has become an increasingly mainstream position, endorsed by former policymakers from both Democratic and Republican administrations; The New York Times editorial board; and virtually every policy adviser for the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Moreover, sixty-four percent of Israelis support negotiating with Hamas, while Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai–acting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approvalasked Carter to deliver his request for a meeting to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal. As the Annapolis “process”–which explicitly excluded radicals–appears increasingly hopeless, calls for dealing with Hamas will likely escalate further.

Of course, none of this changes the dangers associated with engaging Hamas, most especially the fact that doing so would validate Hamas’ stubborn refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism as an effective strategy–anathema to the moderation that U.S. policy aims to promote. Policymakers must therefore focus on how Hamas can be prevented from declaring victory the next time a prominent American political figure dials Damascus. Much is at stake and, even while ventures such as Carter’s are still widely dismissed as tomfoolery, the tables may be turning.

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Islamic Jihad: We Refused Carter’s Request for a Meeting

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has announced that its leadership has refused former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s request for a meeting. According to PIJ’s QudsNews website, Egyptian authorities contacted PIJ Secretary-General Dr. Ramadan Shallah on Carter’s behalf earlier this week, inviting Shallah to meet with Carter in Cairo. Shallah is listed on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, and the reward for information leading to his apprehension is $5 million. In turning down the request, Shallah declared that Carter is “carrying an American-Israeli agenda,” while PIJ spokesman Daoud Shahab blasted Carter’s criticism of Palestinian rocket attacks during the former president’s visit to Sderot. E-mails and phone calls to the Carter Center press office seeking confirmation of Carter’s outreach to PIJ have not been returned.

This news should finally shatter Carter’s credibility as a peacemaker. Of course, Carter’s decision to meet Hamas leader Khalid Meshal had already sullied his Nobel reputation, with his posse of former laureates canceling their plans to visit the Middle East with him in response. Earlier today, Carter’s credibility sank even further, when CNN reported that Mahmoud al-Zahar and Said Seyam-two of Hamas’ most radical leaders-would convene with Carter in Cairo.

Yet Carter’s attempt to meet with PIJ is his most disturbing gambit to date. After all, PIJ is generally considered even more extreme than Hamas. While PIJ shares many of Hamas’ militant features–including its coordination of terrorist activities, calls for Israel’s destruction, and theocratic aims–PIJ lacks Hamas’ social and political significance. It does not have the social welfare network on which Hamas has built its popularity, while PIJ’s refusal to participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections points to its minimal public authority among Palestinians. Carter is therefore unable to argue that PIJ is somehow central to any Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is the very argument he has used to defend his meetings with Hamas officials.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder when Carter’s constant efforts to outdo his own moral stupidity will end.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has announced that its leadership has refused former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s request for a meeting. According to PIJ’s QudsNews website, Egyptian authorities contacted PIJ Secretary-General Dr. Ramadan Shallah on Carter’s behalf earlier this week, inviting Shallah to meet with Carter in Cairo. Shallah is listed on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, and the reward for information leading to his apprehension is $5 million. In turning down the request, Shallah declared that Carter is “carrying an American-Israeli agenda,” while PIJ spokesman Daoud Shahab blasted Carter’s criticism of Palestinian rocket attacks during the former president’s visit to Sderot. E-mails and phone calls to the Carter Center press office seeking confirmation of Carter’s outreach to PIJ have not been returned.

This news should finally shatter Carter’s credibility as a peacemaker. Of course, Carter’s decision to meet Hamas leader Khalid Meshal had already sullied his Nobel reputation, with his posse of former laureates canceling their plans to visit the Middle East with him in response. Earlier today, Carter’s credibility sank even further, when CNN reported that Mahmoud al-Zahar and Said Seyam-two of Hamas’ most radical leaders-would convene with Carter in Cairo.

Yet Carter’s attempt to meet with PIJ is his most disturbing gambit to date. After all, PIJ is generally considered even more extreme than Hamas. While PIJ shares many of Hamas’ militant features–including its coordination of terrorist activities, calls for Israel’s destruction, and theocratic aims–PIJ lacks Hamas’ social and political significance. It does not have the social welfare network on which Hamas has built its popularity, while PIJ’s refusal to participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections points to its minimal public authority among Palestinians. Carter is therefore unable to argue that PIJ is somehow central to any Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is the very argument he has used to defend his meetings with Hamas officials.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder when Carter’s constant efforts to outdo his own moral stupidity will end.

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More Malley Misjudgments

One of the great myths of Palestinian politics is that “national unity” is a prerequisite for forging peace with Israel. Indeed, history has shown quite the opposite: that the very pursuit of Palestinian “national unity”—which implicitly requires empowering parties that are sworn to Israel’s destruction—retards the peace process entirely. For example, consider the consequences of including Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections: rather than joining forces with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a unified pursuit of peace, the victorious Hamas leadership opted to escalate its confrontation with Israel—doing so with greater political legitimacy among Palestinians, no less.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama claims to have learned from this history. Even while declining to denounce former President Jimmy Carter for his upcoming meet-and-greet with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus, Obama declared, “Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by, or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements … I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” Yet there is a new reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity in his stance against engaging Hamas: in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley argues that Abbas should employ the same “logic behind his acceptance that Hamas participate in the 2006 elections,” such that Hamas is coaxed enter the political system and given “a stake in governance and a foot in the peace process.”

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Malley—whom I’ve previously criticized for enthusiastically supporting the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections—believes that learning from Palestinian political history means repeating it! In this vein, Malley further calls for yet another Hamas-Fatah national unity deal—one that roughly resembles the agreement that the two parties signed last year in Mecca (with Malley’s blessings), which ultimately gave Hamas ample cover for planning its coup in Gaza only four months later. But perhaps Malley’s total failure to learn from history is best illustrated in his typical homily to Yasser Arafat, whom Malley believes should be a model for future Palestinian leaders trying to sell peace with Israel to their people; he writes, “Full of bluster and bravado, Yasser Arafat could make Palestinian setbacks such as the Oslo compromises taste like victory.” Of course, this is a stunning distortion: Arafat never actually promoted Oslo as a Palestinian victory, but promised that it represented a first step towards reclaiming all of historic Palestine.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder: if Obama is so dead-set against engaging Hamas, why is Malley—a constant proponent of engaging Hamas, among other wrongheaded ideas—advising him?

One of the great myths of Palestinian politics is that “national unity” is a prerequisite for forging peace with Israel. Indeed, history has shown quite the opposite: that the very pursuit of Palestinian “national unity”—which implicitly requires empowering parties that are sworn to Israel’s destruction—retards the peace process entirely. For example, consider the consequences of including Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections: rather than joining forces with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a unified pursuit of peace, the victorious Hamas leadership opted to escalate its confrontation with Israel—doing so with greater political legitimacy among Palestinians, no less.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama claims to have learned from this history. Even while declining to denounce former President Jimmy Carter for his upcoming meet-and-greet with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus, Obama declared, “Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by, or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements … I don’t think conversations with them would be fruitful.” Yet there is a new reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity in his stance against engaging Hamas: in the most recent issue of The New York Review of Books, Obama foreign policy adviser Robert Malley argues that Abbas should employ the same “logic behind his acceptance that Hamas participate in the 2006 elections,” such that Hamas is coaxed enter the political system and given “a stake in governance and a foot in the peace process.”

Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Malley—whom I’ve previously criticized for enthusiastically supporting the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections—believes that learning from Palestinian political history means repeating it! In this vein, Malley further calls for yet another Hamas-Fatah national unity deal—one that roughly resembles the agreement that the two parties signed last year in Mecca (with Malley’s blessings), which ultimately gave Hamas ample cover for planning its coup in Gaza only four months later. But perhaps Malley’s total failure to learn from history is best illustrated in his typical homily to Yasser Arafat, whom Malley believes should be a model for future Palestinian leaders trying to sell peace with Israel to their people; he writes, “Full of bluster and bravado, Yasser Arafat could make Palestinian setbacks such as the Oslo compromises taste like victory.” Of course, this is a stunning distortion: Arafat never actually promoted Oslo as a Palestinian victory, but promised that it represented a first step towards reclaiming all of historic Palestine.

Ultimately, one is left to wonder: if Obama is so dead-set against engaging Hamas, why is Malley—a constant proponent of engaging Hamas, among other wrongheaded ideas—advising him?

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Carter’s Awkward Moments

Jimmy Carter’s upcoming handshake with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus promises to be an incredibly awkward moment. In fact, it will be so awkward that–almost forty-eight hours after the story broke–the Carter Center has yet to confirm the visit (though Hamas has done so giddily). Amidst this dithering, the U.S. foreign policy community has overwhelmingly lambasted the proposed meet-and-greet, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper seems to be Carter’s lone supporter in Washington.It’s gotten so bad that even Kofi Annan–who infamously greeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during his tenure as UN Secretary General–is distancing himself from Carter, canceling his plans to accompany the former U.S. president to the Middle East.

Rest assured, this awkwardness is here to stay, and will not subside once Carter boards his plane back from Damascus. Rather, it will follow him all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver–where the keynote address he will deliver as a former Democratic president will be a chillingly awkward moment for the ultimate presidential nominee. Indeed, without Carter having even addressed the Hamas meeting publicly, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized Carter’s plans through their press offices. For now, Carter’s lack of attachment to either campaign makes this form of distancing acceptable. Yet when Carter addresses a national audience for a full half-hour or so in late August at the convention, the ultimate nominee will have some serious explaining to do–particularly because the nominee’s campaign is largely responsible for drafting speakers, and thus technically responsible for Carter’s time in the limelight.

Naturally, Carter’s visit with Hamas will be most problematic if Obama wins the nomination. As an article in the LA Times noted yesterday, Obama continues to face doubters within the Jewish community, who remain concerned by his longtime relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and question the sincerity of his pro-Israel pronouncements. It is for this reason that Carter’s decision to legitimize Hamas now is most confounding: how can Carter, who has hinted at his support for Obama, put him in such an awkward position?

Jimmy Carter’s upcoming handshake with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus promises to be an incredibly awkward moment. In fact, it will be so awkward that–almost forty-eight hours after the story broke–the Carter Center has yet to confirm the visit (though Hamas has done so giddily). Amidst this dithering, the U.S. foreign policy community has overwhelmingly lambasted the proposed meet-and-greet, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper seems to be Carter’s lone supporter in Washington.It’s gotten so bad that even Kofi Annan–who infamously greeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during his tenure as UN Secretary General–is distancing himself from Carter, canceling his plans to accompany the former U.S. president to the Middle East.

Rest assured, this awkwardness is here to stay, and will not subside once Carter boards his plane back from Damascus. Rather, it will follow him all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver–where the keynote address he will deliver as a former Democratic president will be a chillingly awkward moment for the ultimate presidential nominee. Indeed, without Carter having even addressed the Hamas meeting publicly, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized Carter’s plans through their press offices. For now, Carter’s lack of attachment to either campaign makes this form of distancing acceptable. Yet when Carter addresses a national audience for a full half-hour or so in late August at the convention, the ultimate nominee will have some serious explaining to do–particularly because the nominee’s campaign is largely responsible for drafting speakers, and thus technically responsible for Carter’s time in the limelight.

Naturally, Carter’s visit with Hamas will be most problematic if Obama wins the nomination. As an article in the LA Times noted yesterday, Obama continues to face doubters within the Jewish community, who remain concerned by his longtime relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and question the sincerity of his pro-Israel pronouncements. It is for this reason that Carter’s decision to legitimize Hamas now is most confounding: how can Carter, who has hinted at his support for Obama, put him in such an awkward position?

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Khalid Meshal’s Doublespeak

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.

Imagine if Barack Obama had been able to control completely the public’s awareness of his relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In all likelihood, he would have emphasized this connection to a small segment of the African-American community, and otherwise denounced Wright forcefully when addressing the broader American public. Of course, this was hardly a realistic option: in the United States, such bold attempts at duplicitous crowd-pleasing are quickly exposed, and accusations of hypocrisy often become overwhelming. For Obama, an attempt to reconcile his connection to Wright with his campaign’s unifying claims thus became a necessity.

Yet the rules are substantially different in Palestinian politics, where audience-dependent double-speak—in which mutually exclusive positions are routinely aired to separate constituencies—is a long-cherished art form. Indeed, Yasser Arafat refined this strategy down to a science, saying entirely different things to his Arabic- and English-language audiences. For example, not long after vowing to pursue “coexistence” on the White House lawn during the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat promised a Johannesburg mosque audience, “The jihad will continue!” Through this strategy, Arafat kept western diplomatic and financial support flowing, even while satisfying his Palestinian base and preparing for future war with Israel via the Second Intifada.

Naturally, the double-speak strategy that Arafat employed requires access to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences, as well as proficiency in English. But for Hamas politburo chief Khalid Meshal, these qualifications are deeply problematic. After all, Meshal generally confines himself to his Damascus headquarters and, if his recent interview with Sky News (a must-watch) is any indicator, his command of English is quite rudimentary.

Well, Meshal has apparently located an alternate strategy for producing effective double-speak: issuing conciliatory statements towards Israel that are withheld from his Palestinian base through Hamas’ press censorship. Indeed, in an interview with the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, Meshal declared Hamas’ support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza—in theory, a major concession considering the Hamas Charter’s call for raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Yet Hamas’ political base will never hear of Meshal’s statement, as Hamas has banned al-Ayyam in Gaza for the past fifty days. Even Gaza’s Internet users will be left in the dark: the online edition of al-Ayyam says nothing of Meshal’s openness to a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and only carries his statements regarding Palestinian prisoners and failed ceasefire negotiations. As a result, Meshal’s supposed concession carries no political price, and therefore no political significance.

For the time being, there is good news: with the exception of the ever-optimistic Ha’aretz, Meshal’s statements have gone entirely unnoticed in the western press. Let’s hope that this is because the top media outlets have learned from previous experiences with Arafat, and not because they’re stuck in Gaza.

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Egypt “Solves” the Gaza Problem

When Israel sealed Gaza last week—cutting fuel supplies and food imports, among other resources—this blog was somewhat divided as to whether the fallout would be beneficial for Israel.  I argued that Israel had acted counterproductively, undermining its own strategy against Hamas while taking a substantial toll on Palestinian civilians.  My contentions colleagues Noah Pollak and David Hazony countered that Israel’s actions had made Gaza Egypt’s problem—a responsibility that Egypt had unwittingly accepted once it responded permissively to Hamas’ breach of the Gaza-Egypt border.

Unfortunately, my colleagues neglected a substantial difference between Israel and Egypt’s positions vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza.  While Israel justifiably refuses to deal with Hamas, Egypt continues to do so and can provide Hamas what it needs most—political legitimacy, particularly among Palestinians.  Egypt thus has substantial leverage for inducing Hamas to make sure that Gaza does not become Cairo’s problem—something that Hamas can provide so long as it maintains exclusive control of Gaza.

This morning, Egypt ensured that Gaza would not become its problem, welcoming Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Cairo for meetings with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Head of Intelligence Omar Suleiman.  As Egypt won Hamas’ agreement to seal the Gaza-Egypt border, it entertained a variety of demands aimed at repealing the understandings under which Israel left Gaza in 2005.  Hamas has thus called for removing European Union monitors; opening the Rafah crossing to non-Palestinian Authority ID cardholders; and repealing Israel’s veto over the Rafah’s status.  Most critically, it has called for negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas regarding Rafah’s administration, refusing to accept “anything less than a major role.”

For the time being, Abbas is refusing to deal with Hamas and standing by his previous agreements with Israel regarding Rafah.  But one can hardly bank on Abbas neglecting Hamas for too long, and Egypt’s dealings with Meshal suggest that the guarantees that Israel achieved upon leaving Gaza are under diplomatic attack.  In short, so long as Israel fails to construct a military strategy narrowly tailored towards defeating Hamas—or at least damaging Hamas’ ability to reliably produce security for Egypt—Gaza will remain its problem exclusively.

A word to the wise: he may be the dullest of dictators, but never underestimate Hosni Mubarak’s ability to determine and protect his interests effectively.

When Israel sealed Gaza last week—cutting fuel supplies and food imports, among other resources—this blog was somewhat divided as to whether the fallout would be beneficial for Israel.  I argued that Israel had acted counterproductively, undermining its own strategy against Hamas while taking a substantial toll on Palestinian civilians.  My contentions colleagues Noah Pollak and David Hazony countered that Israel’s actions had made Gaza Egypt’s problem—a responsibility that Egypt had unwittingly accepted once it responded permissively to Hamas’ breach of the Gaza-Egypt border.

Unfortunately, my colleagues neglected a substantial difference between Israel and Egypt’s positions vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza.  While Israel justifiably refuses to deal with Hamas, Egypt continues to do so and can provide Hamas what it needs most—political legitimacy, particularly among Palestinians.  Egypt thus has substantial leverage for inducing Hamas to make sure that Gaza does not become Cairo’s problem—something that Hamas can provide so long as it maintains exclusive control of Gaza.

This morning, Egypt ensured that Gaza would not become its problem, welcoming Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Cairo for meetings with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and Head of Intelligence Omar Suleiman.  As Egypt won Hamas’ agreement to seal the Gaza-Egypt border, it entertained a variety of demands aimed at repealing the understandings under which Israel left Gaza in 2005.  Hamas has thus called for removing European Union monitors; opening the Rafah crossing to non-Palestinian Authority ID cardholders; and repealing Israel’s veto over the Rafah’s status.  Most critically, it has called for negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas regarding Rafah’s administration, refusing to accept “anything less than a major role.”

For the time being, Abbas is refusing to deal with Hamas and standing by his previous agreements with Israel regarding Rafah.  But one can hardly bank on Abbas neglecting Hamas for too long, and Egypt’s dealings with Meshal suggest that the guarantees that Israel achieved upon leaving Gaza are under diplomatic attack.  In short, so long as Israel fails to construct a military strategy narrowly tailored towards defeating Hamas—or at least damaging Hamas’ ability to reliably produce security for Egypt—Gaza will remain its problem exclusively.

A word to the wise: he may be the dullest of dictators, but never underestimate Hosni Mubarak’s ability to determine and protect his interests effectively.

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Top Five Handshakes of 2007

The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

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The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

3. U.S. President George W. Bush poses with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As I noted last month, the Annapolis Conference ended with a shutout: three Olmert-Abbas-with-Bush-in-between handshakes, and zero peace-promoting accomplishments.

2. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets his favorite basketball player Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I know: Syria sent its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, so it’s entering the U.S. orbit and moving away from Iran. Apparently the Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart haven’t gotten the memo.

1. Abbas shakes hands with Hamas leaders Khalid Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Like so many Hamas-Fatah truces before it, this one started with Hamas’s reeling from Israeli strikes and political isolation and ended with Hamas stronger than it had ever been previously. Hamas now controls Gaza, and has set its sights on the West Bank. Yet, for a few moments in February, this latest Hamas-Fatah truce held so much promise—as a symbol of their unity, Abbas, Meshal, and Haniyeh had even coordinated their outfits. It doesn’t get more choreographed than that.

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The First Assault on Annapolis

Most coverage of the Annapolis Conference conceded that Israeli-Palestinian peace was hardly a likely outcome. Indeed, there were many reasons to be skeptical: the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are too weak; Hamas is too strong; Israeli and Palestinian publics are too pessimistic; and the “Arab street” is too apathetic, if not downright opposed, to accepting peace with the Jewish state. Given these realities, commentators floated a number of theories as to what Annapolis could realistically accomplish. Perhaps the most compelling of these theories argued that Annapolis sought to establish a broad U.S.-Arab-Israeli coalition against Iranian ascendancy. This theory convincingly explained why even Saudi Arabia—whose leaders proudly refused to shake hands with their Israeli counterparts—participated.

Yet, only two weeks after Annapolis, the it’s-all-about-Iran theory can be laid to rest. Rather than using Annapolis and the ensuing diplomatic process to isolate Iran and its regional proxies, Arab participants have reached out to Iranian-backed Hamas, pushing for a truce with Fatah that would readmit Hamas to the Palestinian political process. This weekend, Saudi Arabia took the first step towards reconciling Hamas and Fatah when it welcomed Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal for talks, while Iranian television has announced that Hamas officials will visit Egypt later this week—a move aimed at pressuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate.

Make no mistake: if Arab states successfully force Abbas to negotiate with Hamas, peace prospects will be conclusively doomed. Of course, Hamas and Fatah have been down this road before: after months of infighting, Abbas convened with Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh in Mecca in February 2007, forging a national unity government under Saudi patronage. The ensuing period of relative calm allowed Hamas to prepare for its takeover of Gaza, which formally terminated the national unity government after a mere four months and improved Iran’s ability to provide financial and military support to its radical Islamist allies.

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Most coverage of the Annapolis Conference conceded that Israeli-Palestinian peace was hardly a likely outcome. Indeed, there were many reasons to be skeptical: the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are too weak; Hamas is too strong; Israeli and Palestinian publics are too pessimistic; and the “Arab street” is too apathetic, if not downright opposed, to accepting peace with the Jewish state. Given these realities, commentators floated a number of theories as to what Annapolis could realistically accomplish. Perhaps the most compelling of these theories argued that Annapolis sought to establish a broad U.S.-Arab-Israeli coalition against Iranian ascendancy. This theory convincingly explained why even Saudi Arabia—whose leaders proudly refused to shake hands with their Israeli counterparts—participated.

Yet, only two weeks after Annapolis, the it’s-all-about-Iran theory can be laid to rest. Rather than using Annapolis and the ensuing diplomatic process to isolate Iran and its regional proxies, Arab participants have reached out to Iranian-backed Hamas, pushing for a truce with Fatah that would readmit Hamas to the Palestinian political process. This weekend, Saudi Arabia took the first step towards reconciling Hamas and Fatah when it welcomed Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal for talks, while Iranian television has announced that Hamas officials will visit Egypt later this week—a move aimed at pressuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate.

Make no mistake: if Arab states successfully force Abbas to negotiate with Hamas, peace prospects will be conclusively doomed. Of course, Hamas and Fatah have been down this road before: after months of infighting, Abbas convened with Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh in Mecca in February 2007, forging a national unity government under Saudi patronage. The ensuing period of relative calm allowed Hamas to prepare for its takeover of Gaza, which formally terminated the national unity government after a mere four months and improved Iran’s ability to provide financial and military support to its radical Islamist allies.

For now, the good news is that Abbas has blocked the resumption of dialogue with Hamas. Yet time is not on Fatah’s side: it enjoys little public support among Palestinians, while Hamas has overmatched it militarily. Negotiating with Hamas will only exacerbate these problems, allowing Hamas to reap the rewards of relative calm with more Iranian funding and increased political legitimacy.

If the Bush administration is serious about pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace as a strategy against Iran, it will immediately put an end to Egyptian and Saudi attempts to reengage Hamas. It could start by calling Egypt on its hypocritical policy of boosting Hamas even while it imprisons members of its own Muslim Brotherhood. It could also remind the Saudis that legitimizing Iran’s proxies is a dangerous strategy for a country just across the Persian Gulf and bordering Iraq. Whatever it does, the U.S. can hardly afford for the coalition it assembled in Annapolis to fall so quickly.

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No Hysteria on Syria

On Andrew Sullivan’s website, guest blogger Gregory Djerejian (whose normal home is The Belgravia Dispatch) bemoans what he calls “Syria Hysteria.” The supposed hysterics in question include Senator Joe Lieberman, former Bush speechwriter (and my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations) Mike Gerson, and yours truly, who is dubbed “our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite.” That’s pretty distinguished company, even without the flattering comparison to one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

Djerejian, a lawyer who works at a financial services company in New York, is aghast that all of us have been sounding the alarm about Syria’s role in facilitating the infiltration of dozens of jihadists into Iraq, where they are responsible for carrying out some of the worst terrorist outrages. The fact that dozens of jihadists are entering Iraq from Syria every month is incontestable; this has been stated publicly by General David Petraeus and numerous other officials, who have based their claims on interrogations of captured terrorists and other hard intelligence.

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On Andrew Sullivan’s website, guest blogger Gregory Djerejian (whose normal home is The Belgravia Dispatch) bemoans what he calls “Syria Hysteria.” The supposed hysterics in question include Senator Joe Lieberman, former Bush speechwriter (and my current colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations) Mike Gerson, and yours truly, who is dubbed “our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite.” That’s pretty distinguished company, even without the flattering comparison to one of the greatest writers in the history of the English language.

Djerejian, a lawyer who works at a financial services company in New York, is aghast that all of us have been sounding the alarm about Syria’s role in facilitating the infiltration of dozens of jihadists into Iraq, where they are responsible for carrying out some of the worst terrorist outrages. The fact that dozens of jihadists are entering Iraq from Syria every month is incontestable; this has been stated publicly by General David Petraeus and numerous other officials, who have based their claims on interrogations of captured terrorists and other hard intelligence.

Djerejian tries to wave away Syrian guilt by pointing to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, which states, “Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-al-Qaeda-in-Iraq groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.” That’s not much of an exoneration. Note the word “some”; Syria obviously has not cracked down on most Sunni extremist groups. And although the NIE says that Bashar Assad is not “providing support” to al Qaeda in Iraq (what’s the definition of “support”?), it is silent on whether the Syrian strongman is looking the other way as would-be suicide bombers transit his soil.

Djerejian naively imagines that the Damascus regime would have nothing to do with such Islamic radicals, since in 1982 Bashar’s father crushed an Islamist uprising in the Syrian city of Hama. This is, of course, the same mistake made by those who imagine that, evidence to the contrary, Saddam Hussein would never have made common cause with Islamic radicals. In fact, both the Baathist regime in Baghdad in its later years, and now the Baathist regime in Damascus increasingly rely on Islamic imagery to cement their authority.

For all Assad’s claims that he doesn’t want to allow an Islamic takeover of Syria, the evidence is overwhelming that he is deeply complicit with Islamic radicals operating against neighboring states. Damascus, after all, is the headquarters of Hamas, led by Sunni radical Khalid Meshal. Damascus has also established a very close alliance with the Shiite radical regime in Tehran. Syria, in fact, acts as principal middleman between Iran and the Shiite radicals of Hizballah in Lebanon. Imagine that—a supposedly secular Baathist regime led by Alawites (a Shiite sect) making common cause with both Sunni and Shiite radicals. Since all of this is common knowledge, the only surprise here is that Djerejian is surprised.

Given Djerejian’s stubborn unwillingness to grasp the fact that Syria has been waging war on the U.S. and our allies (viz., Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and, in the past, Turkey), correspondingly he is agape at the arguments made by Lieberman, Gerson, and me to get tough with the Damascus regime. I suggested in contentions, for instance, that we might use our airpower to close Damascus airport until Assad cuts off the flow of foreign fighters, who mostly travel to Iraq through that same airport. Writes Djerejian, with heavy-handed irony: “A peachy idea! Save that using airpower against a sovereign nation’s airport is an act of war, you know.”

So is providing support to terrorist groups that are operating in another nation’s sovereign territory. Our inexplicable failure to respond accordingly does not change the fact that Syria (and Iran) is waging war on us. To speak bluntly about these matters does not constitute, as Djerejian huffily has it, “ignorance and adventurism.” It is no more than an acknowledgment of reality.

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