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Hamas-Fatah Unity vs. U.S. Policy

“You personally instructed to kill Muslims. You should know that soon you’ll hang together with Bush Junior.”

Those words were directed at President Obama by a Palestinian imam in reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden (article and video here). The imam spoke from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem — that is, under the aegis of the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority, not of Hamas-run Gaza. Or as he put it:

The western dogs are rejoicing after killing one of our Islamic lions. From Al-Aqsa Mosque, where the future caliphate will originate with the help of God, we say to them — the dogs will not rejoice too much for killing the lions. The dogs will remain dogs and the lion, even if he is dead, will remain a lion.

Earlier, when Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had reacted to bin Laden’s death by slamming “the American policy” and “the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner had called the remarks “outrageous.” Yet, again, the Fatah-good-guys/Hamas-bad-guys dichotomy won’t hold. On Tuesday, a day after Haniyeh’s condemnation, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade released its own statement.

The Martyrs’ Brigade is the military wing of Fatah, directly subordinate to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. It declared:

The Islamic nation awoke to a catastrophe—the reports of the Shahid [Martyr] death of the Sheikh, Jihad-fighter Osama bin Laden, in a treacherous manner, by the gangs of the heretics….We say to the American and Israeli occupier: the [Islamic] nation…is a nation that is capable of supplying an abundance of new blood into the arteries of the resistance and is capable of restoring the glory of Islam and the flag of Allah’s oneness, Allah willing.

Even though Fatah is supposed to be the “secular, moderate” good guy, the recipient of American largess and military training, the peace partner of Israel, it is hard to see any ideological difference between the Martyrs’ Brigade statement and those of the imam or Haniyeh. Yet, predictably, the words of the Martyrs’ Brigade did not elicit a peep from Washington. For if the myth of “moderate” Fatah falls, where is the “peace process,” and where is a U.S. policy built on illusion?

But, while it might always be possible to brush off some inconvenient, unpleasant words, that policy met an even greater challenge on Wednesday as Fatah and Hamas signed (reports here and here) a deal in Cairo that is supposed to meld them into a joint Palestinian government. Fatah was represented by Abbas; Hamas by Damascus-based terror kingpin Khaled Mashaal, whom Israel tried to assassinate in Amman, Jordan in 1997.

Abbas said, “We announce to Palestinians that we turn forever the black page of division…the state of Palestine must be born this year” — referring to the planned attempt to get a Palestinian state recognized by the UN in September. If the unity deal holds up, it will be possible to claim that “Palestine” is now a coherent entity instead of two separate ones in the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas added, “Hamas are our brothers, our family. We may differ a lot, but we agree a lot….Hamas is part of us.” Mashaal, for his part, said, “Our common enemy is Israel. Israel must be fought through force and diplomacy.”

So it’s official, even for those who doggedly believe in a moderate Fatah: the Palestinian government is now a terrorist government. Hamas is formally defined as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union. These bodies offer Hamas conditions  — something they would never do regarding al-Qaeda — to make itself respectable and join the “peace process”: renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. There is no chance that Hamas will comply with any of these.

Already on Wednesday Mahmoud Zahar, sometimes referred to as Hamas’s “foreign minister,” reiterated that his organization would never recognize Israel nor give up the “right to Palestine, while recognizing the rule of Poles and Ethiopians” there (referring to two of the many Israeli Jewish ethnicities).

As for renouncing terrorism, it is possible that Hamas will try to hold its guns till September. Yet the new, post-Mubarak Egypt, the host and probably the driving force behind the Fatah-Hamas deal, is already rewarding Hamas by opening Egypt’s border with Gaza — seen universally in Israel as a grim development that will enable an increased influx of Iranian weapons to the Strip.

With many Palestinian-affairs experts rating this deal’s chances to endure as low, it may be understandable for the U.S. to hedge for a while and repeat the mantra about Hamas and the three conditions. But not for long. As Dick Morris asks starkly:

Will the United States continue to give the PA $600 million a year in foreign aid?… Will we aid an overtly terrorist state committed to the destruction of Israel?

It doesn’t make much sense to fight terror in Pakistan and bolster it elsewhere.