If Palestinian rift is healed, does that help US aims in Middle East?
Analysts see some good news for the US, but mostly bad in a Palestinian rift-ending accord. The deal is also seen as a hint of things to come in the increasingly democratic Middle East.
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A former State Department Middle East expert, Mr. Miller says a government in which Hamas holds major ministerial portfolios is hardly going to be one to encourage a conciliatory approach from the Israelis. “If it’s an accord that allows Hamas to shoot, as it were, and play politics at the same time, no Israeli government will respond by easing up,” he says. “It puts the US in a very difficult position to say the least.”
Israel condemns accord
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to condemn the reported accord, saying that it would doom the peace process if carried out.
“You can’t have peace with both Israel and Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office and apparently directed at Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. “Choose peace with Israel.”
Yet as pithy a “sound bite” as that may be, says Mr. Levy, it ignores the new reality of a neighborhood that is under momentous change that can’t simply be dismissed. “It may be a great PR line, but it’s of no use to an America that has to engage with the real world,” he says.
Many regional analysts were quick to underscore the fact that the Fatah-Hamas accord was apparently negotiated with an Egypt in full political transition as the go-between. It is the same Egypt-in-political-transition that vows to honor its peace accord with Israel, even as it decides to reestablish diplomatic relations with Tehran.
“Is America going to have frostier relations with a democratic Egypt because it doesn’t like all the choices it makes, in the same way that it already has frostier relations with a democratic Turkey?” Levy says. “If that’s the response, it bodes ill for America’s role in the region.”
A pro-Israel US Congress is not likely to simply accept a Palestinian unity government including Hamas as a reality in a changing region, however. In fact, the Wilson Center’s Miller says congressional reaction to a Hamas role is likely to be the “first practical problem” the Obama White House faces if the accord announced Wednesday holds.
Impact on US aid to Palestinians
“If Hamas formally participates in a [Palestinian] government, Congress will act on its own, and the administration will have a tough time responding,” he says. “Congress isn’t going be sending hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to Hamas.”
The Palestinians receive more than $450 million in financial assistance from the US, the largest single donor. But the US cut off the funding when Hamas was briefly part of a unity government, and most analysts believe the same would occur now – unless Hamas agreed to a set of conditions laid out by the international community including the US.
Those conditions include a full renouncing of violence as a means of accomplishing goals, and recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
But Miller says that if anything, the Palestinian accord suggests that not just Hamas but Fatah as well may be turning its back on an international process it has concluded did not deliver.
“This is one more step in a series now,” Miller says, “that suggests the Palestinians have decided to go unilateral.”