Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas trooped to the White House for his promised photo op and received presidential promise of a new $400 million aid package for the West Bank and Gaza that will, the White House hopes, go to pay for improving the Palestinians’ health and infrastructure needs.
The point of the visit is clearly to give a boost to Abbas, whom both Israel and the United States consider their preferred Palestinian negotiating partner. Washington touts Abbas’s credentials as a potential peacemaker but, like his predecessor and longtime boss, arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat, the PA president has repeatedly turned down Israeli offers of statehood and peace. But because the alternative is Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza, Abbas must be propped up as much as possible.
But by joining those pushing to have Israel weaken its blockade of Abbas’s Hamas rivals, it’s not clear that Obama is doing much to help the Fatah party leader. As the Washington Post reported, with Abbas beside him, Obama declared, “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable.” While stopping short of expressing U.S. support for lifting the blockade, Obama said that arms should be kept out while food and building materials are let in. Of course, food is already let in, and Hamas’s desire for more construction materials has more to do with a desire to rebuild and strengthen its fortifications and tunnel networks than the needs of ordinary Gazans. And Obama said nothing about how the aid he promised the Palestinians or the goods he’d like to see pass through the weakened Israeli blockade will be delivered to the people there without Hamas taking what it likes.
Though the bulk of the administration’s focus on the peace process has been on pressuring Israel, to his credit President Obama did mention that he wanted more progress from the Palestinians on both security and incitement issues. The latter is a reference to the fact that the official Palestinian media, which is under Abbas’s control, continue to incite hatred against Israel and Jews.
In reply, Abbas made the usual pleasant noises in English about peace, coexistence, and a denial that his government and media have “anything to do with that,” referring to the incitement. However, a visit to the website of Palestine Media Watch quickly illustrates the mendacity of Abbas’s White House statement.
Abbas feels he must speak out about the blockade because his constituency demands that he do so. But he knows that any substantial lifting of the sanctions on Gaza will be seen as a huge victory for Hamas. Abbas’s term as PA president expired more than a year ago, an inconvenient fact that is never mentioned by either American or Israeli officials. But there is a reason why he doesn’t dare call a new election. If he did, Hamas might soon be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza. While Washington knows this, by paying lip service to the Palestinian propaganda campaign that has sought to demonize Israel’s legal and justifiable efforts to isolate Hamas in Gaza, the president may be doing more to help Hamas than to help Abbas.