Hamas is the key problem. The main problem. The principle reason why Palestinians suffer in Gaza, and one of the central reasons why there is neither motion nor movement on the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track.
For most Israelis, that understanding is no great epiphany.
Yet when the US administration officials went on a public diplomacy blitz this week stressing that point, repeating that line, it felt a bit different. It was not Israeli officials repeatedly saying this, but American ones.
Granted, Washington’s Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and US President Donald Trump’s Mideast negotiator Jason Greenblatt have been articulating that message via scattered Twitter shots over the last year and a half. However, this week it was not scattered fire, but a concentrated barrage using some of the administration’s heaviest artillery: Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
A week ago on Thursday, Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman penned an op-ed
in The Washington Post
saying, “The nightmare of Hamas leadership is continuing and endlessly prolonging the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
They continued, “At the expense of the Palestinian people, Hamas is fighting a morally bankrupt, decades-old war that has long been lost.
Peace will provide opportunity to break this stalemate, and peace will be achieved only by embracing reality and dismissing a flawed ideology.... The world is moving forward, but bad choices are causing Palestinians to fall further and further behind.”
Again, for most Israelis, this is not necessarily a breaking news flash. But to hear it so forcefully pronounced by the US administration, is – well – a break from the past.
For instance, in December of 2016 – after the Obama administration in its final days allowed an anti-settlement resolution to pass in the UN Security Council – then-secretary of state John Kerry gave his summation speech on the state of the Middle East diplomatic process that he had spent so much time and energy trying to move forward, but with dismal failure.
The long-winded Kerry delivered a speech of more than 9,500 words. He used the word Hamas only four times. He said the organization pursues an extremist agenda, has a one-state vision, is “responsible for the most explicit forms of incitement to violence, and many of the images that they use are truly appalling. And they are willing to kill innocents in Israel and put the people of Gaza at risk in order to advance that agenda.”
Kerry also said it diverts reconstruction aid to rearm and build tunnels to attack Israel. After two paragraphs on Hamas, he turned to the settlements, which he mentioned 27 times, and essentially characterized as the main obstacle to peace.
Hamas merits four mentions by Kerry, the settlements 27 – that word count in short summed up the approach of the previous administration. Peace was not around the corner – not because of Hamas’ unending terrorism and fanatical ideology, but rather because of the settlements. That approach has been squarely rejected by the current administration.
And it wasn’t only the Obama administration and Kerry who did not pay enough attention to Hamas. It was also the administration of George W. Bush and his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice who just ignored Hamas and thought everything would work out in the end if an agreement could be reached with the Palestinian Authority.
One reason Bush failed to advance the peace process – despite all the fanfare surrounding the Annapolis conference in 2007 – was its penchant to just think that if it propped up the Palestinian Authority, if it showered support and aid on it, then the reality of Hamas control over Gaza would somehow disappear. It ignored the reality of Hamas’s rule there, thinking somehow peace could be had without addressing the issue of Hamas’s control over the area.
The current administration, as made clearly evident this week, is tacking in a completely different direction.
Two days after the Kushner, Greenblatt, Friedman op-ed in The Washington Post
, Haley joined the trio, lending her byline to an oped that ran on CNN’s website titled “For Gaza peace, tell the truth about Hamas.”
This article briefly described the events at the UN General Assembly on June 13, when a one-sided motion condemning Israel was brought to the floor by Algeria that did not mention Hamas even once, and “blatantly ignored the facts.”
“Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, has been inciting the violence at the Israeli boundary fence for months, using Palestinian civilians as human shields. And Hamas and other terror groups have fired more than 100 rockets and sent untold numbers of flaming kites, some displaying swastikas, into Israel in the past month, hoping to kill as many Israeli civilians and destroy as much property as possible. And yet the Algerian resolution not only failed to hold Hamas terrorists accountable for their role in the violence, it failed to mention Hamas at all,” the piece read.
In response, they explained, the US proposed a simple amendment to the resolution that called out Hamas for its role in the violence.
“Nothing like this had ever been done before at the United Nations. Hundreds of resolutions passed by the General Assembly dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed even to mention Hamas,” they wrote.
While in the end that amendment failed on procedural grounds, “more nations voted for holding Hamas accountable with the US amendment than against it.”
And that, they held, was the start of a paradigmatic shift.
“For the first time in the United Nations, more nations than not acknowledged that peace between Israel and the Palestinian people must be built on a foundation of truth regarding Hamas. They recognized that reconciliation is impossible if reality is denied for the sake of scoring political points. And part of that reality is recognizing the primary responsibility Hamas bears in perpetuating the suffering of the people of Gaza.”
Peace, Trump administration officials said over and over again when Washington moved the embassy to Jerusalem in May, must be based on a recognition of facts, and one of those facts is that Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital.
Another “fact,” another “reality” it is now acknowledging, and wants the world to recognize as well, is that Hamas is responsible for Gaza’s agony.
Haley made this crystal-clear on Monday, at a speech to a conference in Washington by the pro-Israel evangelical Christians’ United for Israel.
She recounted the US moves at the UN on Israel’s behalf, saying the underlying idea behind Washington’s spirited defense on Israel’s behalf “is the simple concept that Israel must be treated like any other normal country. We demand that Israel not be treated like some sort of temporary provisional entity or pariah.”
Haley said it was inconceivable that only one country in the world doesn’t get to choose its capital, that only one country in the world is discussed regularly by the UN Human Rights Council, and “that only one set of refugees throughout the world is counted in a way that causes the number to grow literally forever.”
And then she launched into the need to recognize reality, acknowledge facts.
“The UN’s bias against Israel has long undermined peace, by encouraging an illusion that Israel will go away,” she said. “Israel is not going to go away. When the world recognizes that, then peace becomes possible. It becomes possible because all sides will be dealing with realities, not fantasies.
Fantasies encourage absolutist demands. When realities are accepted, then compromise becomes possible.”
If the Arab world really cared about the Palestinians, Haley said in another speech on Tuesday, this time to the monthly Security Council discussion on the situation in the Middle East, “they would condemn extremism and they would put forth serious ideas for compromises that could end this struggle and lead to a better life for the Palestinian people.”
Referring to the long awaited US peace blueprint that the administration is working on and the Palestinians have already rejected, Haley said if the Arab world was truly concerned about the Palestinians, “they would tell the Palestinian leadership how foolish they look for condemning a peace proposal they haven’t even seen yet. The Palestinian leadership has been allowed to live a false reality for too long because Arab leaders are afraid to tell them the truth.”
The US is “telling the truth because we do care about the Palestinian people,” she said.
In May that truth was that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital; in July it is that Hamas is holding Gaza and the Palestinian cause hostage.
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