Ron Radosh

The Fatah-Hamas Agreement: The Failure of Obama's Middle East Policy, and the End of the 'Peace Process'

It has just been announced that Fatah and Hamas, the two bitter rivals in the Palestinian nationalist movement, have signed a unity accord to end their decades long divide. Their preliminary agreement, according to The New York Times, provides for their creation of a transnational unity government for both the West Bank and Gaza, to be followed by new elections after one year.

Immediately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a firm statement about the meaning of this agreement:

“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,”  Mr. Netanyahu said in a televised address on Wednesday. “Peace with both of them is impossible because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”

Netanyahu is correct. What it means, moreover, is the immediate end to the mythical “peace process” that the Obama administration has been trying to resurrect since Obama assumed the presidency. The fig leaf is now off the Palestinian Authority and the idea that the West Bank government of Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a viable partner for the attainment of negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution.

Now that Fatah has made it clear that it prefers unity with the Hamas terrorists — despite the documented fact that Hamas has itself slaughtered and murdered scores of Fatah representatives in cold blood the past few years — it is crystal clear that there is simply no Palestinian entity that can serve as any kind of negotiating partner with Israel.

According to reporter Isabel Kershner’s story in the Times, the announcement “appeared to catch the Obama administration…by surprise.” If that is the case, it not only reflects on the poor intelligence capacity of the United States in the region, but also reveals the administration’s dependence on its myopic hopes about a new peace process taking place. Indeed, as Abbas revealed earlier to Newsweek:

Obama had led him on, and then let him down by failing to keep pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank last year. “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,”  Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”

Having been burnt by Obama already, clearly the PA decided that rather than go along any more with the current U.S. administration’s lofty plans, it was better to cut a deal with Hamas than find that Hamas would take over the West Bank on its own, assuring the arrest, imprisonment or elimination of Fatah leaders, or the total collapse of any Fatah role in a forthcoming Palestinian state or territory.

It also appears that helping broker the agreement between Fatah and Hamas was none other than representatives of the new post-Mubarak Egyptian government, a government that already has made some noises about wanting to abrogate the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Moussa Abu Marzzouq, a Hamas negotiator, told the press that previously deadlocked talks had taken place because of help from the Egyptian mediators, who showed “exemplary performance.” If there had to be further evidence of how dangerous the ousting of Mubarak was for the maintenance of Middle Eastern peace, this is it. As the NYT story put it, “the Egyptian revolution has reshuffled regional diplomacy.” Mubarak, despite his many faults, was considered hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood. Now that this is no longer the case, and that Hamas is a brother organization and offshoot of the MB, this problem no longer existed.

Now, the two sides announced, they agreed on interim leadership of the PLO, the tribunal for scheduled free elections, and an election deadline. They also agreed on the issue of control of the security services. This is particularly dangerous, since the United States had been working with Fatah to help build these services in the West Bank, in the hope that Fatah could broaden its base and control and be able to stand up against Hamas. Now, this very service, which has received U.S. aid, is likely to fall under Hamas control.

Netanyahu, therefore, has good reason to fear that the West Bank too will fall under Hamas control. Now, the United States will have to quickly decide what to do about the scheduled aid that has been coming to the West Bank, meant to shore up the economy and create a successful Palestinian area that would be committed to peace, and that would weaken Hamas. That Fatah thought it had to proceed to seek unity with Hamas indicates that despite this economic build-up, its leaders still feared crushing defeat in any free election.

This new development makes it even more than likely that with Assad in power in Syria, and Hamas in both Gaza and now the West Bank, a new Middle East war is likely to break out. One hopes that finally, even the witless Obama administration will see that appeasing the Palestinians and the Arab street is a hopeless task, and that putting a “peace process” in first place as administration policy for the region is the worst possible policy to pursue.

Rather than follow the advice of J-Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami, who argues in  letter to the editor of the NYT that the administration should press “boldly forward with an initiative to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the Obama administration should firmly cement its support of Israel, announce that it will stand by its side, and condemn Fatah and Hamas for their new unity agreement.  The road to peace depends first and foremost on knowing who our mutual enemies are in the region, and who are real friends are. America’s best friend and most reliable ally is Israel, and the Obama administration must now acknowledge its previous errors, and condemn the persistent and dangerous Palestinian intransigence.

It must back those in Congress who will undoubtedly now call for ending all aid to Hamas and Fatah, and support the statement issued today by Rep. Nita M. Lowey, the highest ranking Democrat on the House foreign aid subcommittee:

Unless Hamas accepts the Quartet Principles, which include renouncing violence and recognizing Israel, the formation of a unity government with Fatah will be a deathblow to the peace process.

Peace, it is now more clear than ever, does not depend on a useless and foolhardy peace process.