PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s April 23 unity pact with Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that scuttled the US-brokered Middle East peace process has been met with a relative lack of concern by some Western officials and even guarded optimism by others.
Prevailing thinking in some Western circles has embraced Abbas’ recent statements that a Palestinian Authority- Hamas Fatah unity government will renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas insists the opposite is true. In fact, as Palestinian analyst Khaled Abu Toameh points out in a May 5 Gatestone Institute brief, Hamas leader Khaled Mashall stated 48 hours after the draft unity agreement that, “Our path is the resistance and jihad is our choice. This is the original Palestinian strategy. We want to build our homeland and liberate our land and holy sites, bring back the refugees and release the prisoners. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, inside and outside, our choice is resistance and the rifle is our way.”
Since 1988, Hamas’s genocidal covenant and record of terror against Israelis and Americans have earned the Islamist group designation as a terrorist organization by the United States, the EU, United Kingdom, Canada and other Western nations. It is also not lost on Americans that the Hamas leadership condemned United States’ killing of Osama bin Laden, calling it “state terrorism that America carries out against Muslims.”
Despite Hamas’s unequivocal incitement to murder and record of deadly terror assaults, and in view of Abbas’s spirited defense of the PA’s arch-rival, the question arises: Why have American and European officials remain publicly subdued over the Hamas-Fatah merger deal when the move undermines the foundation of American peace leadership efforts, uproots the basis of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, unravels the governing Oslo Interim accords and defies UN resolutions? Ambassador Martin Indyk, Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief adviser on the current peace process, in his first public appearance since negotiations were suspended on April 29 did note that the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah agreement was the final step that led to the suspension of talks, but then emphasized that, “It’s much more important where we go from here,” offering no substantive assessment of the implications for Fatah or Hamas of the watershed unity pact with a US-designated terror organization.
Even more curious, Catherine Ashton praised the accord. The EU foreign policy chief’s’ office stated with guarded optimism that, “The EU has consistently called for intra-Palestinian reconciliation behind PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas.”
In the previous, 2012 Fatah-Hamas unity attempt, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Palestinian reconciliation was “an internal matter” for the Palestinians.
True, the test of the deal’s implementation and of Hamas’ commitment to pragmatism versus continued radicalism will be tried in the scheduled forthcoming elections that Hamas and the PLO must agree be held in the coming six months. It’s also reasonably likely that the deal will fall apart (as it has twice before in the past eight years) before implementation, as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has noted.
But the mere acceptance in principle of a Hamas-Fatah deal has prematurely raised Hamas’ regional and international legitimacy. It has also compromised Egypt’s war on the Muslim Brotherhood and specifically against Hamas terror actions on Egyptian Security forces. As Dore Gold has assessed, the Egyptian military has determined that Hamas is linked to the global jihadist network operating in the Sinai Peninsula. Hamas was also accused by the Egyptian leadership of providing logistical support for a terrorist operation that targeted Egyptian security command in 2013 in the Nile Delta in which 16 members of the Egyptian security forces were killed and 130 wounded. Gold further notes that since 2013, Hamas has been banned throughout Egypt and its offices have been closed.
Under these conditions one wonders why the US as an active mediator did not itself abruptly cease peace negotiations when the Hamas merger was announced on April 23, 2014, as opposed to leaving it to Israel to suspend the talks. This assumes one accepts the notion that Hamas as a radical Islamic terror group must not be allowed to participate in any government constellation, as long as it rejects the Quartet’s three core requirements: forswearing violence, recognizing Israel and honoring past agreements.
That is unlikely to happen soon. But the Obama administration cannot be held wholly responsible for re-creating red lines that had been blurred by the previous US administration in pushing for Palestinian elections in 2006, allowing Hamas to remain armed, radicalized and ready to defeat the Fatah and assert control of the PLO. Hamas’ 2007 armed takeover of Gaza and the thousands of rockets it has since fired indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities underscore its commitment to jihad.
That’s why the US-led Western alliance must reassert red lines against Hamas just as it has drawn an important line in the sand against al-Qaida. Hamas in fact was an ideological mid-wife to al-Qaida, and has systematically radicalized the Palestinian public to nurture grassroots support for terrorism to achieve its strategic goal of destroying Israel and assaulting Egypt. Accepting a Hamas-Fatah unity pact under these circumstances may likely undermine vital US security interests the region.
The writer is a Research Fellow and director of the ICT Desk on Counter Delegitimization and Public Diplomacy at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at the IDC Herzliya.