Obama Fumbles Palestinian Unity

Any doubt about how
the United States makes its policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should
be dispelled by the Obama administration's near-instant reaction to the Fatah-Hamas
reconciliation announcement: it is determined to be fully in sync with Prime
Minister Netanyahu. Without even hearing the details of the agreement, the
White House, as reported in the New
York Times
, "all but dismissed" it:  

The White House, which has
been debating how best to revive peace talks ahead of an address to Congress
next month by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, all but dismissed the proposed reconciliation by reiterating the
longstanding American designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization that has
never expressed a willingness to recognize Israel, let alone negotiate with it.

"As we have said before, the
United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the
cause of peace," Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in the
administration's only public response. "Hamas, however, is a terrorist
organization which targets civilians."

He added that any Palestinian government had to accept certain
principles announced by international negotiators known as the Quartet: the
United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia. They include
renouncing violence, abiding by past agreements with the Israelis and
recognizing Israel's right to exist. Hamas has never agreed to those

Then Congress spoke.
Gary Ackerman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and
a pro- Netanyahu stalwart, weighed
on the agreement:

"It calls into question everything we have done," Representative Gary
L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York, said in a telephone interview. He later
issued a statement saying the United States would be compelled by "both law and
decency" to cut off all aid.

"I don't think there is any will on the part of the administration or
the Congress to provide funds to a government that is dominated by a dedicated
terrorist organization," he said.

On a roll, Ackerman
  that the deal "will be paid for
with the lives of innocent Israelis." Ackerman, like most of his colleagues,
never seems to notice all the innocent Palestinians who die at Israeli hands (many,
many more than
the number of Israelis who are killed by Palestinians), as evidenced by his
cheerleading for the Gaza war. Nor did
he care that he did not know the terms of the Fatah-Hamas agreement.

Of course,
Ackerman's statement is typical of the congressional response. In fact, one of
the reasons that AIPAC cutouts like Ackerman are first to issue press releases
on any matter related to Israel is to set the tone for their colleagues by
indicating what the right (i.e., politically safe) position is.

But the position
itself is dead wrong.

The right position would
be to simply wait and see what the Hamas-Fatah agreement says. Already today, Haaretz is
that, under the terms of the agreement, President Mahmoud Abbas
will be handling negotiations for any new unity government.  (As usual, the Israeli view of events in its
own region is not as stridently "pro-Israel" as in Washington.)  

Considering that
even Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Abbas for his commitment
to peace, it is just possible that Hamas will, following Abbas's lead, change
its position in coming days.

Unfortunately, the
U.S. reaction to the Hamas-Fatah agreement makes any such change less likely.

In fact, the
administration's demand that Hamas recognize Israel in advance of any
negotiations with Israel could well ensure that there won't be any. So could
our demand that it accept all previous agreements negotiated by the Palestinian

All of these issues
would naturally be addressed in the context of negotiations.  Demanding that Hamas accept them in advance —
a position devised by the Israeli government and then pushed on the United
States and the European Union — is an act of diplomatic sabotage.

There is only one
demand we should make of Hamas, that it cease all acts of violence.  Hamas
has, in fact, lived up to that commitment during
various cease-fire periods
with Israel. In partnership with Fatah, it would
likely do so again.

In any case, a
mutual cease-fire is a reasonable demand, one that would facilitate negotiations.
But the people issuing demands in Jerusalem and in Congress seem to have no
interest in negotiating. Their goal is delivering for Israel which, of course,
is a way of delivering for their campaigns.

This is the third
time in the last few months that the combination of Netanyahu and the lobby
(including, of course, its congressional allies) have successfully pressured
the administration to do its bidding. The first
came when the United States was forced to stand all alone at the United Nations
and veto a resolution condemning Israeli settlements (a resolution that
embodied the Obama administration's own policy). The second
was when the administration said that it would oppose any Palestinian
declaration of statehood at the United Nations this coming fall.

It appears that the
administration has little interest in playing the role of "honest broker," at
least until after Election Day 2012. And after that, there is the 2014 congressional
election. And then the 2016 presidential election. And so it goes. 

Meanwhile, as
General David Petraeus famously
us last year, the perception that the United States is in Israel's
pocket "presents distinct challenges to our ability to advance our
interests...Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and
depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples" in the Middle East.

But, hey, that's
only the national interest he's talking about. What does a general know about