The Fatah-Hamas Deal and the Future of the Palestinians

May 13, 2011

The Fatah-Hamas Deal and the Future of the Palestinians

Update from AIJAC

May 13, 2011
Number 05/11 #04

This Update returns to the subject of the Fatah-Hamas deal and focuses especially on the implications of the deal for the Palestinians and their aspirations.

First up is noted French philosopher and public intellectual Bernard-Henry Levy, whose reaction to those who imagine that this deal could be good for the Palestinians or peace prospects is to repeat the words of French Premier Edouard Daladier when he was greeted by cheering crowds after appeasing Hitler at Munich in 1938 – “Oh! The Fools!” He argues that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has essentially undone all the good work he has done for Palestinian credibility and normal life over recent years. Even bigger losers, he argues, are the 1.5 million Gazans condemned to the totalitarian, terrorist rule of Hamas with its penchant for eternal conflict, as well as the whole “Arab spring” movement. He has much more to say, with considerable eloquence, and to read it all, CLICK HERE. An analysis which also concludes that there are no winners from this deal comes from American Jewish Committee expert Dr. Ed Rettig.

Next up is American Middle East analyst Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, who directly addresses the effects of this pact on Palestinian aspirations. He says the next effect of this pact is essentially a Palestinian decision to turn their back on US support and hope that recognition from Latin American and some European countries will be enough. Schanzer identifies several fatal miscalculations in this belief, not least that the Hamas-Fatah pact cannot last, and that Hamas may threaten Fatah’s control of the West Bank, with Abbas left without Israeli and the American help to face this threat. For this complete argument, CLICK HERE. Some similar arguments come from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

Our third contribution comes from former senior US official dealing with the Middle East Elliot Abrams. Abrams insists that the Fatah-Hamas deal is essentially an end to the peace process, and like Levy, makes the point that Abbas is abandoning all the Palestinian gains over the past few years. Elliot attempts to explain why he believes Abbas has taken this route, as well as the options and imperatives now for both Jerusalem and Washington. For this full, valuable exposition from a very knowledgeable source, CLICK HERE. Barry Rubin also has an excellent piece detailing a variety of likely negative long-range consequences for the Palestinians from the deal.

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“Oh ! The Fools!”* (On a Palestinian Munich) 

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Huffington Post, Posted: 05/10/11 12:05 PM ET

How can anyone be so stupid?

And how can so many commentators, how can this or that eminence of whatever parliamentary commission, this or that minister or former minister, how can the French Socialist party–in short, how can so many reasonable minds welcome the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as good news, a good sign, like the far too long delayed reunion of a too long divided people, when it is, in reality, a catastrophe?

It is a catastrophe for Israel, aware that an organisation whose favoured mode of diplomatic expression has consisted, since the 2007 putsch, of firing missiles at the civilians of Sderot, is back in the saddle. Barely a month ago, on Hamas’s initiative, a schoolbus came under fire from a Kornet anti-tank weapon.

It is a catastrophe for Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, who, in a few short moments, the time it took to sign at the bottom of the page of an accord he himself may not believe in, has ruined all the hard-won political and moral credit gained in the course of the years when, confronted by a Hamas dubbed a “terrorist organisation” by all whose voices are considered authoritative, beginning with the European Union and the United States, he hung on. Mahmud Abbas has returned to the bygone days of doublespeak, when Yasser Arafat declared the PLO charter “null and void”, all the while underhandedly encouraging various and diverse terrorist attacks.

It is a catastrophe for the Palestinian people themselves (but perhaps the great conciliators, these friends of the Palestinian people who know better than they themselves what is good for them, are not worried about that?) It is a catastrophe, yes, for the million and a half citizens of Gaza who live under the law of a party that is not only terrorist, but totalitarian, an enemy of Palestinian women (these “man factories ”, to quote Article 17 of a charter that people really should get round to reading), assassin of the rights and liberties of Palestinians (Articles 24 and 27, among others), and which has chosen to fight to the very last drop of blood of the last living Palestinian rather than to attend “international conferences”–“futile activities” they consider a “waste of time” (Article 13 of the same charter).

It is a catastrophe for a peace of which it is false to say that it was at a standstill. All the polls attest to the fact that a majority of Israelis were and are ready for it. An increasing number of Palestinians were and are fed up with fueling the ages-old hate machine and are inclined to counter the hardline attitude of their leaders in exchange for a viable State. And now, all that has gone by the wayside with the rehabilitation of the only party concerned that is still proclaiming (Article 7, again, of its charter) that “the fulfilment of the promise” shall not come until “the Muslims” have not only “combated” but “killed” all “the Jews”.

And, finally, it is a catastrophe for an Arab spring that, as no one can ignore, is also an ideological battlefield where two kinds of power are at loggerheads: on the one side, the democratic and liberal movement that enthusiastically supports human rights, tenant of moderate Islam; and on the other, the old crabs of radical Islam, the tyrannies of yesterday and the day before, the indestructible Muslim Brotherhood, created in Egypt in 1928, close on the heels of burgeoning Hitlerism, and of which Hamas is, today, the Palestinian branch. How, in these conditions, can one fail to see that this “historic” accord signals a prehistoric regression? How can one fail to understand that this fraternisation, with all its razzle-dazzle, is an insult to everything new the recent insurrections have been able to bring to an Arab world crushed under the yoke–an insult to the youth of Tahrir Square in Cairo, who demonstrated for weeks on end without uttering the shadow of an anti-western, anti-American, or anti-Israeli slogan? It is an insult to the insurgents of Benghazi who are fighting for a Libya that will cease to be the second homeland for the negationists, killers of Jews, and terrorists of this world, as it was under Qadhafi; it amounts to spitting in the faces of the hundreds of Syrians who, since March, have been massacred by the best friend of Hamas; it is an offense to Mohammed Buazizi, the young Tunisian who set everything off and who, to my knowledge, did not immolate himself “in solidarity with the jihadis of 1936” (again, the same Article 7 of the Hamas charter. 1936, the high point of the ‘Hitlerian’ era of the young Hamas).

And so, I know that people are saying, “Wait, you’ll see, give it some time, it’s by letting the fascists back into the game, by flattering them, showing them consideration, that we’ll succeed in toning them down, in improving them.”

Well, we’ll see. Except that the only thing we’ve seen so far, the first strong gesture the candidates for improvement made, the day after this shameful accord, was to condemn the elimination of Bin Laden–this “crime” (as Hamas’s leader, Ismaël Haniyeh put it) which is right in line with the “policy of oppression” founded upon the “bloodbaths” of formerly colonized peoples. That says it all. And there is, not only in his words, but in the deafening silence that echoes them here, something devastatingly distressing.

 *As France’s Prime Minister, Edouard Daladier accompanied Neville Chamberlain to Munich and acquiesced to the agreement with Hitler, though, personally, he had no illusions as to Hitler’s ultimate intentions. Returning to Paris, he glanced out the plane window at the cheering crowds and reportedly exclaimed, “Ah! Les cons!” [Oh! The fools!]

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Why the Hamas-Fatah Deal Is Bad for the Palestinians

Jonathan Schanzer

The Weekly Standard,  May 10, 2011 12:54 PM

The Palestinians zealously celebrated last week’s unity deal between Hamas and Fatah. Young men in both the West Bank and Gaza cruised around in their cars, honking and flashing the victory sign out of their windows. There was dancing, singing, and firecrackers. Indeed, the civil war between the two most powerful Palestinian factions appears to have ended.

But the deal should nonetheless concern Washington. This deal with Hamas – which recently criticized America for killing Osama bin Laden – signals that Fatah no longer believes U.S. recognition and support are essential to their national aspirations.

For five years, Palestinian diplomats have been quietly and successfully lobbying Latin American, Muslim, and European nations to recognize an initiative for a unilateral declaration of independence. The Palestinians envision that state occupying the West Bank and Gaza territories outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The plan is to declare that state at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2011, where some 140 states will (presumably) recognize it.

Until last week it appeared that the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, was eager to secure U.S. approval for this bold initiative. It also appeared that President Barack Obama supported the plan, in spite of half-hearted statements to the contrary by State Department officials. Beginning in the spring of 2010, Obama found numerous opportunities to upbraid the Israelis for building in the disputed territories that Palestinians sought to claim for their future state. He even upgraded the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission, apparently in anticipation of the move.

Yet, the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is a blow to U.S. policy, and makes it more difficult for Washington to support a Palestinian state. Washington rightly regards Hamas as a terrorist organization, and has banned official recognition of the group for its decades-long involvement in attacks against Israeli civilians. This effectively prevents Washington from endorsing any government that involves Hamas, and further sets back decades of Palestinian efforts to rehabilitate their global image.

In 1988, then-PLO leader Yassir Arafat recognized U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which acknowledged Israel’s sovereignty and its right to exist. This opened the doors for the Oslo Process, in which the Palestinians assembled the bureaucratic building blocks for their national project. A decade later, in 1998, the Palestinians amended the PLO charter, erasing all calls for the destruction of Israel. This put the Palestinians one step closer to statehood.

When Arafat chose war with Israel over President Bill Clinton’s far-reaching peace deal in 2000, statehood seemed a distant dream. But after Arafat died in 2004, the Palestinians again appeared eager to restore their image. Fatah leader Abbas, alongside Palestinian prime minister Salaam Fayyad, began rebuilding the institutions the war had destroyed. Abbas and Fayyad looked even more worthy of U.S. support after Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in a brief but brutal civil war in 2007.

The resulting split with Hamas made it easy for the West to cast Fatah as peaceful and pragmatic. Though Fatah maintained its own terror apparatus (the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades) and continued to incite hatred for Israel via their official media, the U.S.-Palestinian relationship thrived. Washington stood up a Palestinian military force in the West Bank and the U.S. contributed more taxpayer funds to the Palestinian Authority than ever – some $600 million – even as Americans were climbing out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Now, the Obama administration has little choice but to cut ties with the new Palestinian interim government. The State Department lists Hamas as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, barring all formal diplomatic engagement with it. The Treasury Department also lists Hamas as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity, banning direct U.S. aid all institutions in which Hamas is involved.

Abbas knows this. So, his decision to embrace Hamas was a deliberate choice to run around Israel and the United States. Rather than slog through thorny issues with Israel under American-led negotiations, he will unite the West Bank and Gaza under a symbolic umbrella government of technocrats, then pursue a unilateral declaration of independence, followed by an international legal campaign to “reclaim” land that was never in history a self-governed Palestinian polity.

Abbas likely feels that he has little to lose. For all of Obama’s talk of settlement cessation, he has not been able to deliver any of the disputed lands that Palestinians claim for their own. Meanwhile, Obama has not been able to bring about his stated desired outcome in a host of neighboring countries: Libya, Iraq, and Egypt are obvious examples. Hamas appears to be on the ropes, with its sponsor Syria in crisis. In addition, Hamas doesn’t want Fatah to declare a state without its inclusion. This was at least part of the calculus behind Abbas’s decision to reconcile with Hamas.

Abbas, however, appears to have made three critical miscalculations:

First, Fatah’s partnership with Hamas simply cannot last. Apart from their enmity toward Israel, the two factions agree on almost nothing. Even at the heralded unity conference, Abbas and the Syria-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, refused to sign their names to the deal; proxies signed for them. The two factions also continue to arrest and obstruct loyalists from opposing parties.

This brings us to the second point. Israel has been defending the West Bank from Hamas advances since the civil war in 2007. With Hamas now a political partner to Fatah, Israel’s leadership could refuse to come to Fatah’s defense. Thus, Israel’s military, intelligence, financial, and civic support to the West Bank may soon dry up. At the very least, the Palestinians should brace for a significant drop in support.

Finally, even if the U.N. recognizes a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, a lack of U.S. support will create political and financial challenges that may smother the state in its cradle. Already, 29 senators have asked Obama to turn off the spigot of aid to the Palestinians. And even in the Obama era, with the United States showing less assertiveness on the world stage, the Palestinians need America and its robust foreign policy assistance.

Though Fatah and Hamas may have temporarily reconciled themselves to one another, the Palestinians will eventually need to reconcile themselves to Washington. As long as Hamas is in the picture, it won’t be easy.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former intelligence analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan 2008).

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The End of the “Peace Process”

Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points
7/5/11 at 6:24

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas marks the end of a long period of cooperation and negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

It’s worth reviewing the recent history briefly. In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon endorsed the two-state solution and said Palestinians should govern themselves. At a summit meeting in Aqaba, Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (whom Yasser Arafat was forced to appoint) exchanged words of peace and Abbas explicitly renounced violence as a tool of Palestinian politics. In late 2003 and with more detail in early 2004, Sharon announced that he would pull Israeli settlers and troops out of Gaza and withdraw symbolically from 4 small settlements in the West Bank, and after a long political battle did so in the summer of 2005.

In November 2004 Arafat died and Abbas was chosen as his successor in a free election in January 2005. Negotiations over a final settlement started up again after the Annapois Conference in November 2007, though they ended when Operation Cast Lead began in late 2008 and have never recommenced. Despite the Hamas coup in Gaza in 2007, Israeli-PA cooperation on the ground improved from 2006 right through to 2011, allowing for a significant progress in economic conditions in the West Bank and for considerable security cooperation against terrorist groups including Hamas. Under American training, PA security forces improved greatly in the last several years, just one piece of the institutional progress that has taken place since Salam Fayyad became prime minister in 2007.

In choosing to enter a coalition with Hamas, Abbas is abandoning all the advances made to date and abandoning his own former approach. Cooperation with Israel to improve life in the West Bank and security cooperation against terrorism have now been jettisoned in favor of the appearance of unity. All of Abbas’s past statements about Hamas as his enemy, Fatah’s enemy, and the PA’s enemy have been put aside in an embrace of Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader. Under the agreement, elections will be held for the PA presidency and parliament, and for the PLO bodies, in one year, and security forces are to be put under one umbrella.

Why now? Why Hamas entered this coalition is easy to explain. Its invaluable support from Syria is as shaky as the Assad regime itself, and its usual opposition to PA elections is softened by the prospect of winning them. Moreover, Hamas has long sought to enter and dominate the PLO but was kept out of it. Abbas’s willingness to let Hamas in is a considerable victory for Hamas.

But why did Abbas do it? Public opinion polls suggest that Palestinians want national unity and reconciliation, so Abbas is playing to the voters. (Whether those voters will be able to distinguish real reconciliation from a façade put up by Hamas and Fatah leaders who hate each other is a different matter.) And Abbas is calling for a September UN vote recognizing an independent Palestinian state, which would be harder to win if the PA manifestly ruled over half the territory only, with Gaza wholly independent. Abbas may also have felt that with polls showing that Hamas is quite unpopular in Gaza and weaker than in 2006, Fatah should be able to win the PA and PLO elections.

As to the meaning of all this for the “peace process,” well…..there is no more “peace process.” Abbas has given up on it, just as he has given up on President Obama. He recently commented to Newsweek that “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. 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.” Abbas is turning instead to internal politics, and his message to us is “Go away and leave me alone. I am finished with peace negotiations for now.” Of course, as he has promised not to run again in next year’s presidential elections, he himself is presumably finished with them forever. He wants his legacy to be some semblance (no matter how false) of national unity, rather than a difficult and controversial peace agreement with Israel that requires him to make compromises—and be accused of treason by Hamas for each one. In this sense he is casting himself as a transitional leader between Arafat and whatever comes next, a man too weak to lead his people across to the promised land of real national independence.

It remains to be seen how the United States and the EU will react to the new situation. When Hamas won the 2006 elections, the US and EU (with Russian support, briefly) adopted what became known as the Quartet Principles: “It is the view of the Quartet that all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations….”

Trying to get around the Principles in 2006 and again now, the Palestinian formula is that there will be a non-party technocratic government. That way, they can say Hamas is not actually participating in the PA government—not yet anyway. It is a hollow formula, and not only because it merely delays the problem of Hamas’s role until elections are held. Will “all members” of the new government now truly endorse an absolute end to violence and terror, not simply tactically but morally and permanently?

In his 2003 Aqaba speech, Abbas said “we repeat our renunciation, a renunciation of terror against the Israelis wherever they might be. Such methods are inconsistent with our religious and moral traditions and are dangerous obstacles to the achievement of an independent, sovereign state we seek. These methods also conflict with the kinds of state we wish to build, based on human rights and the rule of law.” Excellent words. Will every new appointee swear to them, even though Hamas obviously rejects them? After all, it is only a month since Hamas fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus. And this week, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told Al Jazeera Hamas would never recognize Israel and “the rule of Poles and Ethiopians in their land.” But don’t worry about that, said Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Shaath: “many others agree with us that the old rules of the quartet were not logical, and are not workable.”

Back in 2006 and 2007, it seemed to me the EU would abandon the Quartet Principles if Hamas gave them the slightest pretext—but the Hamas guys did not come through for the eager European diplomats. They wouldn’t move one inch toward the Quartet. Perhaps they will in 2011, in which case Israel will find top-level Hamas representatives being wined and dined in all the capitals of Europe. If not, the EU will likely oppose the PA effort at the UN in September, led by the Germans. For obvious historical reasons and because it is led by a principled person, Germany has already taken a tougher line. When this week President Sarkozy said “If the peace process is still dead in September, France will face up to its responsibilities on the central question of recognition of a Palestinian state,” Chancellor Merkel rejected an appeal from Abbas and said “We do not think that unilateral steps are helpful.”

If the EU does not support the Palestinians in New York come September, the Palestinian effort will likely succeed in winning a majority but fail nevertheless. Because if the new entity does not have EU and US recognition, the Palestinian effort to replace negotiations with Israel by unity between Fatah and Hamas and by unilateral diplomatic moves will have led into a cul de sac. Who cares how Zimbabwe and Venezuela and the Arab League vote, if the United States, the EU, and nations such as Canada and Australia vote against the Palestinian effort or (for those who are afraid to do so) even abstain on it?

What should Netanyahu say when he speaks to a joint session of Congress in a couple of weeks? That Israel wants peace and remains committed to the two-state solution; that it realizes the State of Israel will have to give up some settlements in the Land of Israel, if peace is obtainable; that the refugee problem must indeed be solved, but the solution must be found in Palestine, not in Israel; that the fundamental problem is security, and the continuing refusal by the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish State; that there can be no return to the 1949 armistice lines; and that anyone who seeks peace must regard the entry of Hamas into the PLO and into the Palestinian Authority as a grim development.

And what of Washington? Due to the deal with Hamas, any hope Israel’s enemies, or its “friends” in Europe, had that President Obama would push Netanyahu into serious concessions when they meet in late May is now gone. I was one of those who, over the past few months, were urging Netanyahu to consider far-reaching steps toward the Palestinians, but that was back in the old days when the PA and Fatah were enemies of Hamas. Such steps are impossible now in both American and Israeli politics. The President would be wise to adopt a new policy now: the goal should be to try to avoid Israeli-Palestinian violence, let the Palestinians vote next year, and then see where we stand. If the President has a second term and the conditions are good he can return to this subject then; for the remainder of his first term it needs to be parked. It is fair for him to ask Netanyahu to avoid provocative actions, such as starting new settlements in the West Bank or announcing large new housing projects in Jerusalem (new projects will be started there, but Israel should seek less rather than more publicity for them).

And the President should tell the Palestinian Authority leadership that we will give it aid to the extent that its officials are committed to the Quartet Principles and continue to fight terror. Secretary Clinton said on Wednesday that “we are waiting to see the details. We obviously are aware of the announcement in Cairo yesterday. There are many steps that have yet to be undertaken in order to implement the agreement. And we are going to be carefully assessing what this actually means, because there are a number of different potential meanings to it, both on paper and in practice. We’ve made it very clear that we cannot support any government that consists of Hamas unless and until Hamas adopts the Quartet principles. And the Quartet principles have been well known to everyone for a number of years. So we’re going to wait and make our assessment as we actually see what unfolds from this moment on.”

This is not reassuring. The PA will not have “a government that consist of Hamas,” but a non-party technocratic government meant precisely to get around the Quartet Principles. The United States needs to be far clearer: we cannot and will not support any government where Hamas has a real influence and the security forces stop fighting terror. We must certainly not fund such a government, and indeed once Fayyad leaves we should be very wary of the financial practices of the PA. For years Fayyad has resisted Fatah Party efforts—often led by President Abbas—to put corrupt officials into the Finance and other ministries, and this is one reason Fatah leaders dislike him and want him out.

But the critical test will be security work. According to descriptions of the agreement, “Among the first tasks to be tackled is the establishment of a higher security council tasked with examining ways to integrate Hamas and Fatah’s rival security forces and create a ‘professional’ security service. The accord also calls for…the release of a number prisoners held by the rival movements in jails in the West Bank and Gaza.” This suggests an integration of the American-trained security forces with Hamas terrorist forces known as the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, an end to fighting terror, and the release from prisons of terrorists from Hamas and other groups. If this transpires, it would mean the PA/Fatah leaders are choosing the armed struggle over peace with Israel, and would mean that Hamas will henceforth be the leading Palestinian faction.

Perhaps not; perhaps the West Bank security forces will continue their work, given their long years of war against Hamas. Perhaps this agreement like its predecessor will soon break down, for the Hamas and Fatah leaders have been enemies for decades. Yuval Diskin, who is about to step down as the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service and who knows as much about Hamas and Fatah as anyone, said this week “I think the chance of a real reconciliation between the sides over the next two or three years is slim. The signing of the agreement creates a facade of unity, but it is unclear how they will implement the agreement on the ground.” In that sense Secretary Clinton was right to say we need to see what unfolds. But we need to be absolutely clear on the standards we will apply. We do no favor to any Palestinian who really seeks peace, democracy, and independence if we pull our punches when a murderous terrorist group maneuvers to gain power in—and then take power over—all the Palestinian territories.

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