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?