NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

Editorial: The Hamas-Fatah Deal

It’s been six years since Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). While his demeanor and commitment to non-violence were a welcome alternative to the theatrical and militant Yasser Arafat, during the past two years Abbas has been as flexible in negotiations as his predecessor and longtime confidant was during most of his tenure. That is to say, not at all.

In fact, for months Abbas has persisted in his refusal to negotiate with Israel until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees, as a precondition for talks, to cease all Israeli construction east of the former Green Line. This absurd and maximalist stance (one that not even Arafat took) means that Israel cannot build anything in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Meanwhile, instead of speaking with his Israeli counterpart, Abbas has been traveling the world, seeking recognition for a Palestinian state—a state that he must know will never exist unless the PA makes compromises in direct talks with Israel. Nonetheless, Abbas has said that he wants to seek U.N. General Assembly recognition for a state this September. Such a move would violate PLO agreements to resolve all disagreements with Israel through direct negotiations and would lead to a protracted stalemate with Israel.

Abbas has long known that opponents of a unilateral declaration of statehood could point to the fact that the PA does not control the Gaza Strip, where nearly half the Palestinian population in the territories lives. That may be part of the reason that Abbas recently signed a reconciliation deal with rival Hamas.

Hamas, it must be remembered, is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Its charter says that Israel will exist “until Islam abolishes it.” Will that change? There is no evidence for optimism.

Hamas made headlines recently when its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, publicly mourned the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, calling him an “Arab holy warrior.” (Remember also that on September 12, 2001, the New York Times reported that in the West Bank town of Nablus, “big crowds of Palestinians marched in celebration, chanting 'Beloved bin Laden, strike Tel Aviv!’”)

Under the Hamas-Fatah agreement, the two factions reportedly would jointly form a government that would control both the West Bank and Gaza and merge their security forces. In addition, Hamas would join the PLO, and elections would be held a year from now.

It remains to be seen how the Fatah-Hamas deal will be implemented, if at all, since it would mean that Hamas gives up exclusive control of Gaza, which it violently seized from Fatah in a coup in 2007. Presumably, Hamas would also stop firing rockets into southern Israel.

In response to news about Fatah-Hamas unity, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated longstanding U.S. policy that Washington “cannot support any government that consists of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles.” These principles are the recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The Obama administration should continue to be unequivocal in its stance that an unreformed Hamas is not a partner for peace. The administration should also encourage other key countries, including the UK, France, Germany and the European Union as a whole, to take a firm stance on Hamas as well. BACK TO TOP