Why Israel and Obama should welcome Hamas-Fatah reconciliation
The Arab Spring has inspired young Palestinians to protest for an elected, unified government. Hamas has agreed – a hint that its moderates may be gaining influence. Don't dismiss the pact too quickly.
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If the accord holds – and that’s a big if, given the failure of two similar deals since 2007 – it might allow Palestinians to again speak as one.Skip to next paragraph
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That’s important to solve one of the region’s most intractable problems. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only a drag on the Middle East but, as Gen. David Petraeus warned last year, “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples.”
Mr. Abbas appears to have given up on President Obama’s ability to mediate a peace deal. Instead, he now plans to ask the United Nations General Assembly in September to grant international recognition of a Palestinian state. But his goal almost requires Palestinian unity, even if tenuous.
But for Abbas, an alliance with a Hamas that still doesn’t renounce violence and doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist would probably result in the United States cutting off millions in foreign aid and retaliatory moves by Israel.
His only hope is that the moderates within Hamas – sensitive to young Palestinians yearning for unity, freedom, and jobs – gain the upper hand against hard-line extremists. Otherwise, Palestinian unity will be elusive.
Israel and Mr. Obama need to be open to such a possibility rather than dismiss this Hamas-Fatah alliance, as they already have.
Obama has kept an open hand to Islamists in many conflicts, hoping to turn them away from anti-democratic jihadism. He’s not ruled out talks with Taliban factions in Afghanistan. He tried but failed to hold talks with Iran. And he’s still sorting out which detainees at Guantánamo should be tried and which can be rehabilitated.
In that sort of open-mindedness, he is not like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who prefers a divided Palestinian people in order to keep them weak.
Is Hamas capable of reform? The uprisings for democracy in the Middle East remain a powerful force against Islamists like the leaders of Hamas. And Hamas cannot really stand in the way of an independent Palestine being accepted by the United Nations.
Israel and the US, too, should see that the wave toward democracy in the Middle East is upsetting old assumptions. The Arab Spring was a surprise. Perhaps the next surprise is peace for Israel and a unified Palestinian people.