13 May '11
It is hard to believe, but it appears that in the wake of the Palestinian unity deal that brings Hamas, the genocidal, al-Qaida-aligned, local franchise of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, into a partnership with Fatah, US President Barack Obama has decided to open a new round of pressure on Israel to give away its land and national rights to the Palestinians. It is hard to believe that this is the case. But apparently it is.
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in Washington next week, and before the premier has a chance to give his scheduled address to a joint session of Congress, Obama will give a new speech to the Arab world. In that speech, Obama will praise the populist movements that have risen up against Arab tyrannies and embrace them as the model for the future. As for Israel, the report claimed that the Obama administration is still trying to decide whether the time is right to put the screws on Israel once more.
On the one hand, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told the Journal that Arab leaders are clamoring for a new US initiative to force Israel to make new concessions. Joining this supposed clamor are the administration-allied pro-Palestinian lobby J Street, and the administration-allied New York Times.
On the other hand, the Netanyahu government and Congress are calling for a US aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority. With Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, now partnering with Fatah in governing the PA, it is illegal for the US government to continue to have anything to do with the PA. Both the Netanyahu government and senior members of the House and Senate are arguing forcefully that there is no way for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians now, and that the US must abandon its efforts to force the sides to sign an agreement.
The Israeli and congressional arguments are certainly compelling. But the signals emanating from the White House and its allied media indicate that Obama is ready to plough forward in spite of them. With the new international security credibility he earned by overseeing the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden, Obama apparently believes that he can withstand congressional pressure and make the case for demanding that Israel surrender Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to Hamas and its partners in Fatah.
THE SIGNALS that Obama is setting his sights on coercing Israel into agreeing to surrender its capital and heartland to Hamas and its partners in Fatah came in three forms this week. First, administration officials are trying to lower the bar that Hamas needs to pass in order to be considered a legitimate political force.
After Fatah and Hamas signed their first unity deal in March 2007, the US and its colleagues in the so-called Middle East Quartet - Russia, the EU and the UN - set three conditions that Hamas needed to meet to be accepted by them as legitimate. It needed to recognize Israel's right to exist, agree to respect existing agreements with Israel, and renounce terrorism.
These are not difficult conditions. Fatah is perceived as having met them even though it is still a terrorist organization and its leaders refuse to accept Israel's right to exist and refuse to abide by any of the major commitments they took upon themselves in precious agreements with Israel. Hamas could easily follow Fatah's lead.
But Hamas refuses. So, speaking to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius two weeks ago, administration officials lowered the bar.
They said Hamas had made major concessions to Fatah in their agreement because it agreed to accept provisions of the 2009 unity deal drafted by the Mubarak government that it rejected two year ago and because Hamas agreed that the unity government will be manned by "technocrats" rather than terrorists.
Even if these contentions are true, they are completely ridiculous. In point of fact, all the 2009 agreement says is that Hamas will refrain from demanding to join the US-trained and funded Fatah army in Judea and Samaria. As for the "technocratic" government, who does the Obama administration think will control these "technocrats"? And as to the truth of these contentions, in an interview last week with the New York Times, Hamas terror-master Khaled Mashal denied that he had agreed to the terms of the 2009 agreement.
Indeed, he said that Fatah agreed to add annexes to the agreement reflecting Hamas's positions.
The second pitch the administration and its friends have adopted ahead of Obama's address next week is that Hamas has become more moderate or may become more moderate.
Robert Malley, who in the past advised Obama's presidential campaign, made this argument last week in an op-ed in the Washington Post. Malley claimed that by joining the government, Hamas will be more moved by US pressure. A New York Times editorial last Saturday argued that Hamas may have moderated, and even if it hasn't, "Washington needs to press Mr. Netanyahu back to the peace table."
Adding their voices to the din, Middle Eastern leaders like Amr Moussa, the frontrunner to serve as Egypt's next president, and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan, have given interviews to the US media this week in which they denied that Hamas is even a terrorist organization.
Here it is important to note that none of the administration's statements about the Hamas- Fatah deal and none of the media coverage related to it have included any mention of the fact that Hamas deliberately murders entire families and targets children specifically. No one mentions last month's Hamas guided rocket attack which deliberately targeted an Israeli school bus. Hamas murdered 16-year-old Daniel Viflic in that attack. No one has mentioned the café massacres, the bus bombings, the university campus massacres, the breaking into homes massacres, the Passover Seder massacres Hamas has carried out and bragged about in recent years. No one has mentioned that when seen as a portion of the population, Hamas has killed far more Israelis than al-Qaida has killed Americans.
The final pitch the administration and its surrogates are making is that the deal needs to be seen as part of the overall regional shift towards popular rule. This pitch too is difficult to make.
After all, the first casualty of the Arab world's shift towards popular rule is the 30-year-old Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Now that Egypt's citizens have gotten rid of US-ally Hosni Mubarak, they have committed themselves to getting rid of the peace he upheld with Israel throughout his long reign.
Again, despite the difficulties, the Obama administration is clearly willing to make the case. Regarding Egypt, they argue that the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power is a good. This was the point of Obama's Passover and Israel Independence Day messages.
As for the regional shift, the fact that Obama reportedly intends to place the so-called Palestinian- Israeli peace process into the regional context signals that he sees potential for an agreement between Israel and Syria as well. His advisers telegraphed this view to Ignatius.
Obama's advisers made the unlikely argument that if Syrian leader Bashar Assad survives the popular demonstrations calling for his overthrow, he will feel compelled to distance his regime from Iran because his Sunni-majority population has been critical of his alliance with the Shi'ite mullocracy.
This argument is unlikely given that the same officials recognize that if Assad survives, he will owe his regime's survival to Iran. As they reminded Ignatius, US intelligence officials reported last month that Iran has "secretly supplied Assad with tear gas, anti-riot gear and other tools of suppression."
WHAT IS perhaps most remarkable about Obama's apparent plan to use the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as an excuse for a new round of diplomatic warfare against Israel is how poorly coordinated his steps have been with the PLO-Fatah. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat always viewed the US obsession with getting the Arabs and Israel to sign peace treaties as a strategic asset. Anytime they wanted to weaken Israel, they just needed to sound the fake peace drum loudly enough to get the White House's attention. US presidents looking for the opportunity to "make history" were always ready to take their bait.
Unlike his predecessors, Obama's interest in the Palestinians is not opportunistic. He is a true believer. And because of his deep-seated commitment to the Palestinians, his policies are even more radically anti-Israel than the PLO-Fatah's. It was Obama, not Abbas, who demanded that Jews be barred from building anything in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. It is the Obama administration, not the PLO-Fatah, that is leading the charge to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood.
Like his belated move to demand a permanent abrogation of Jewish property rights in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Abbas arguably embraced Hamas because Obama left him no choice. He has no interest in making peace with Israel, so the only thing he can do under the circumstances Obama has created is embrace Hamas. He can't be less pro-Islamic than the US president.
ALL OF this brings us to Netanyahu and his trip to Washington next week. Obviously Obama's decision to upstage the premier with his new outreach-to-the-Arab-world speech will make Netanyahu's visit more challenging than it was already going to be.
Obama is clearly betting that by moving first, he will be able to coerce Netanyahu to make still more concessions of land and principles.
Certainly, Netanyahu's earlier decisions to cave in to Obama's pressure with his acceptance of Palestinian statehood and his subsequent acceptance of a Jewish building freeze give Obama good reason to believe he can back Netanyahu into a corner. Defense Minister Ehud Barak's hysterical warnings about a diplomatic "tsunami" at the UN in September if Israel fails to capitulate to Obama today no doubt add to Obama's sense that he can expect Netanyahu to dance to his drums, no matter how hostile the beat.
But Netanyahu doesn't have to give in. He can stick to his guns and defend the country. He can continue on the correct path he has forged of repeating the truth about Hamas. He can warn about the growing threat of Egypt. He can describe the Iranian-supported butchery Assad is carrying out against his own people and note that a regime that murders its own will not make peace with the Jewish state. And he can point out the fact that as a capitalist, liberal democracy which protects the lives and property of its citizens, Israel is the only stable country in the region and the US's only reliable regional ally.
True, if Netanyahu does these things, he will not win himself any friends in the White House.
But he never had a chance of winning Obama and his advisers over anyway. He will empower Israel's allies in Congress, though. And more importantly, whether he is loved or hated in Washington, if Netanyahu does these things, he will be able to return home to Jerusalem with the sure knowledge that he earned his salary this month.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post