During the weekend, the New York Times reported that the Muslim Brotherhood, a rising force in post-Mubarak Egypt, is exerting pressure on its Hamas allies to do what is necessary to make its unity pact with Fatah work. The upshot of the report is that by seeking to influence the terrorist movement to join the Palestinian Authority, the Brotherhood is advancing the cause of peace. But the assumption that either Fatah or the newly moderate Hamas is actually interested in signing a peace agreement with Israel is utterly without foundation.
The Times buys into the Brotherhood’s spin that its effort to induce its ally to become a partner in the PA is a sign it has evolved from its fundamentalist origins. Rather than merely asserting its goal of destroying Israel and unceasing war with the West, these Islamist parties seek to co-opt existing Arab institutions such as the Egyptian government and the Palestinian Authority. In the sense that the Egyptian party is taking a more nuanced approach to power, they’re right. But the assumption that the ultimate aim of this tactic is peace, is a mistake.
Like Hamas, the Brotherhood’s long-term goal is still the eradication of Israel. But it knows that even if it could command the loyalty of the Egyptian Army — whose acquiescence it needs to consolidate its hold on a share of power in Cairo — this isn’t realistic. Rather, it seeks to govern Egypt and impose its ideology on the largest Arab nation. If it is advising Hamas to try to do the same thing, it does so on the assumption that sooner or later its ally will marginalize Fatah.
The last thing the Brotherhood needs right now is for Hamas to involve Egypt in a conflict that the country’s army wishes to avoid at all costs. But what is occurring is not a transition to an era that will herald a new dawn of peace. Rather, the clear aim is to create an alliance of Islamist-oriented Arab nations in which both moderates and liberals will be shunted aside.
The goal of this charm offensive on the part of the Brotherhood is to help lure both the United States and the European Union away from Israel on the question of Hamas’s designation as a terrorist group. Underlying this effort is the misleading notion that Palestinian unity is a necessary prerequisite to peace with Israel. Those who urge the United States to recognize Hamas are now arguing that including it in the PA will, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s support, create a situation in which there is a Palestinian consensus in favor of peace. But just because Hamas is now, with the Brotherhood’s encouragement, saying it will accept a state whose borders run along the 1967 lines, does not mean they will ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state on the other side of the border.
Rather, both Hamas and the Brotherhood seem to have come to the conclusion that they have a lot to gain from fostering a situation under which they assume power in the territories while maintaining a state of being armed. Indeed, many in Israel might be willing to accept a Hamas-dominated PA provided that cross-border violence was kept to a minimum.
The United States should not be fooled by this shift in tactics. The consolidation of power in both Cairo and Ramallah of Islamist parties will make the achievement of real peace impossible as well as undermining U.S. interests. A Brotherhood-dominated Egypt means that country will leave the fold of Arab moderates and be a reliable opponent of the United States. A PA in which Hamas has the upper hand will mean that the terrorist haven in Gaza will now expand to the West Bank, creating even more instability in the region and threatening Jordan.
While there may not be much the Obama administration can do to retrieve the situation in Egypt at this date, it is not too late to prevent the West Bank from becoming another Islamist stronghold. But if the U.S. weakens in its resolve to continue the ban on contacts with Hamas, that is exactly what will happen.