Analysis: Bush, Olmert look to bolster Abbas in the West Bank

Fear of a rising, Iran-backed Hamas is propelling the US and Israel to consider steps they haven't been eager to take.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
In recent months, the US administration has been trying to use the fear of a rising, nuclear Iran to convince Sunni Arab states to do things they haven't be willing to do, like moderating on Israel. In a region known for revenge feuds and cycles of violence, it should perhaps be no surprise that what goes around, come around. Today, fear of a rising, Iran-backed Hamas is propelling the US and Israel to consider steps they haven't been eager to take. The Hamas victory in Gaza has created an radical Islamic quasi-state now threatening Israel with rockets on one border and strengthened the extremist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on the other. The US and Israel are left to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah in the West Bank in the hopes that this alternative will prove more compelling to the Palestinian people and ultimately be able to reassert control. In comments to the press before their meeting Tuesday, both US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed the need to support Abbas, who is still struggling to consolidate control over the West Bank. "Our hope is that President Abbas and that Prime Minister [Salaam] Fayad, who is a good fellow, will be strengthened to the point where they can lead the Palestinians in a different direction, with a different hope," Bush said. And Olmert said of Abbas, "I'm going to make every possible effort to cooperate with him." When a reporter asked Bush if he planned to persuade Olmert to restart peace talks with Abbas, Olmert remarked, "The president will not have hard work to convince me, because I proposed to meet with President Abbas." Olmert has already make statements supporting the release of Palestinian tax money withheld by Israel and reducing restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Tax revenue is only one new source of funds slated for delivery in the wake of Hamas's ouster from the PA government. The US and EU both announced Monday that they were resuming direct aid to the PA, frozen after Hamas won Palestinian Legislative Council elections and started running the government in March 2006. But Western powers weren't so keen on funneling that money to Abbas prior to those elections. They had held up aid money in the preceding months because of concerns about corruption and the Palestinians' inability to meet budget management targets. But this is no longer a stumbling block, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brushed off that concern when asked about it by a reporter Monday after she announced the decision to resume aid. Abbas has already indicated that a renewed flow of dollars and euros to PA coffers is not sufficient, and is said to be eying other gestures, such as increased arms, a prisoner exchange and the implementation of a US benchmark proposal on Palestinian freedom and access, to increase Fatah's popularity and control in the West Bank. There is also already talk of a likely increase in pressure on Israel to take serious steps toward the Palestinians on the peace process front to make real the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. The argument is that the international community has allowed Israel to spend the last year-plus of Hamas rule free from pressure to make major concessions, as there was understanding that Israel shouldn't have to deal with Hamas, which doesn't recognize the Jewish state, or open itself up to further threats posed by the organization, which calls for Israel's destruction. Now the threat of what Hamas has become is being used as an argument for Israel to take exactly the types of steps it has long resisted.