April 27, 2011

Fatah-Hamas deal is a defeat, but no orphan

Now that Fatah and Hamas have reached an initial reconciliation, there's little room left to pile on the wave of condemnations against Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for even thinking of such a deal. Hamas is definitely reprehensible, but it also controls Gaza, partly thanks to an over-zealous, pro-democracy President named George W. Bush. For so long, we Israel supporters have pointed out that Abbas cannot speak for Gaza when he negotiates for peace. And yet, now that they are consolidating, it is objectively worse for stability and for reconciliation with the Israelis. 

That fact should not distract us from the glaring truth: That it was easier for Abbas to find common ground with religious extremists bent on mass murder -- and who have ritualistically massacred Fatah fighters in cold blood -- than with the democratic and enlightened State of Israel.

Wow. Talk about a dramatic put-down.

In reality, there has always been a faction within Hamas that seeks not only to destroy Israel and murder Jews, but also to be a player in any eventual settlement with Israel and the resulting Palestinian state. This does not mean Israel should let its guard down, but it also means there may be a light at the end of the tunnel... a long tunnel.

Additionally, had this White House and the preceding administration been a bit smarter, Hamas might have been rendered tame or irrelevant years ago. Had the current Israeli government cared about cultivating and bolstering competent Palestinian interlocutors, it would have done less to undermine them at every turn... for starters. In an extra bit of irony, this new pact could prove the final piece of statecraft to have been engineered by Hosni Mubarak, the unavoidably detained former President of Egypt, mourned by Israelis as their greatest Arab friend.

The "good" news, politically at least, for the Obama administration, is that for many months the Israeli-Palestinian talks have been somewhere between atrophy and rigor mortis, so there's little lost in terms of immediate opportunities -- since there were none anyway. Also good for the Netanyahu government, there is one more talking point for justifying more facts on the ground and a stronger U.S.-Israel strategic partnership.

The "bad" news, of course, is that the prospect of a functional Palestinian state worthy of its genuinely beleaguered and yet Westernized people is further out of reach, both intrinsically and vis-a-vis any negotiated solution. Also bad, Israelis sink deeper into the bunker of uncertainty and nihilism born of endless conflict. Of course, Hamas and Abbas and Ban and Obama can be blamed, but that won't change the reality.

In the end, Abbas is not even rebuking the Israelis or the Americans. He is simply making the only peace deal available to him.

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