The Magazine

Better Late than Never?

Obama’s trip to Jerusalem and the ‘peace process’

Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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The Palestinian negotiations, fostered by Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood government, are very unlikely to succeed. The cause of national unity is popular with the “masses” so no Palestinian politicians ever say they are against it, but they never seem to achieve it either. Back in February 2007, the king of Saudi Arabia engineered the “Mecca Agreement” between Fatah and Hamas “to prevent the shedding of Palestinian blood” and “form a Palestinian national unity government.” The unity lasted until Hamas seized Gaza in June of that year, throwing Fatah militants off rooftops in the process. Fatah and Hamas tried again in the 2011 “Cairo Accords,” which were to create an interim national unity government leading to elections in 2012. This never happened. The Fatah and Hamas activists hate each other and have been killing each other for decades; signing a piece of paper does not change that. So even if they do announce some sort of agreement, the great likelihood is that it will be a fraud that deepens the skepticism and mistrust with which Palestinians view the statements of their political “leaders.”

But great harm can be done even by a limited agreement​—​one that claims to put “technocrats” in office for a few months to prepare for elections. To begin with, any deal with Hamas means Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister Salam Fayyad is out: Hamas hates him. The current idea is that President Abbas would serve also as prime minister in any temporary government. Fayyad’s departure would mean that the figure most associated with clean and efficient government, and with pragmatic work to prepare for Palestinian statehood, is gone.

What’s more, preparing for elections in which Hamas would participate simply repeats the unhappy experience of 2006. Over Israeli objections, the “Quartet” (the United States, EU, U.N., and Russia) agreed that Hamas could participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections without laying down its arms. When Hamas won, the United States and the Quartet did not say it could never have any political role. Instead we developed the three “Quartet principles”: Before Hamas could participate in the Palestinian government it would have to accept Israel’s right to exist, renounce terror, and accept all previous agreements signed by the PLO with Israel. It has done none of these things, so any role for it in the governing of the West Bank would be disastrous.

The security issue shows why: Today, Israeli and Palestinian security forces cooperate quietly to prevent terrorism. Maintaining that cooperation with Hamas inside the PA government seems impossible. In fact, Hamas and Fatah maintain entirely separate armed organizations and those of Hamas engage in acts of terror (even if they occasionally prevent other acts of terror by smaller Palestinian terrorist groups when Hamas finds them inconvenient). If the Fatah and Hamas armed groups remain separate, unity is a farce; if they merge, peace talks are a farce.

If the Hamas-Fatah talks by some miracle did succeed and lead to a true unity government, their great achievement would be the inclusion of a terrorist faction of the Muslim Brotherhood in the governing of the West Bank. Hamas has never renounced terrorism against Israelis, and still practices it​—​for example in the indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns. The Hamas Charter still includes a reference to the “treacherous Camp David Accords,” contains primitive anti-Semitic language about the “Nazism of the Jews,” makes repeated attacks on the Rotary and Lions Clubs as Zionist fronts (I am not making this up), and condemns all “so-called peaceful solutions” as an abandonment of Islam. Palestinian unity is sometimes promoted on the ground that it will make real peace negotiations more likely. That’s impossible when “unity” brings in a group that is absolutely opposed to all previous peace efforts and views compromise as heresy.

But playing out this farce could bring great advantages for Hamas. Already it is treated in many Arab capitals as a group equal in legitimacy to Fatah and the PA, and participation in any unity government​—​even a brief or largely fake one​—​will bring more such recognition. And Hamas has bigger game in its sights: control of the PLO, which is still viewed by many governments as “the sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people.” Indeed the Palestinian office in Washington is not that of the PA, but of the PLO. Yasser Arafat feared Hamas and kept it out of the PLO, understanding that membership and then control has long been a Hamas goal. A reconciliation deal that brings Hamas inside the PLO is a step toward the control of Palestinian politics by a terrorist group. About all of this the Europeans and their “peace plan” appear to be silent.

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