Is the Obama administration ready for PA-Hamas reconciliation?
03/29/2011 - 08:02
James Besser

Since I'm on a tear about the Obama administration's somewhat incoherent foreign policy (And I have to say it's a little less incoherent after Monday night's speech on Libya, which answered some of my questions) , let me ask this: does the president's foreign policy team have a plan for what the U.S. response will be if the Palestinian Authority manages to patch things up with Hamas?

Over the weekend there were more reports of a possible reconciliation; it's clear that many Palestinian citizens, feeling the winds of change blowing across the Arab world, want to see the two bodies united.

I still wouldn't bet on it happening – but it could, and when if does the administration better be more prepared with a well-thought-out policy than the Bush administration was when it insisted on immediate Palestinian elections in 2006 – resulting in Hamas' decisive win and setting the stage for its coup in Gaza.

This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid down some clear markers: if Hamas and the PA join together, the peace process is as good as kaput, he said.

At the same time, an aid to Mahmoud Abbas suggested the Palestinians would gladly give up millions of dollars in U.S. aid in the interests of creating a unity government with Hamas.

If it happens, will U.S. peace efforts continue – and will Washington put the squeeze on an Israeli government that has no intention of talking with any entity that include the terrorist group?

Under what conditions might the United States negotiate with a unity government that include Hamas? Will it stick to its stated demands that Hamas first renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist? How will it measure compliance? What will it do if it deems that the Netanyahu government is using the Palestinian move as a pretext to officially end all negotiations, annex settlement blocs and intensify building in eastern Jerusalem?

And how will the administration respond if, as expected, a Hamas-PA deal is precursor to an attempt to win recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations?

And honestly: won't the entire U.S. peace effort remain something of an empty vessel as long as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks for only those in the West Bank? So as much as they hope it doesn't happen, it would seem that some kind of reconciliation is necessary if Obama is serious about being peacemaker.

All difficult questions, and they'll be a lot more difficult because we're about to enter another extended, bitter presidential election.

Any decision by the Obama administration to deal with a Palestinian unity government, even one that signals a willingness to negotiate with Israel, will be used by the Republicans to skewer Obama as a mortal danger to the Jewish state. If the last election is any indicator, that won't make much of a difference to most Jewish voters, but that doesn't mean the Obama team won't do everything possible to make sure it doesn't happen as the election nears.

But a blanket refusal to deal with a unity government under any conditions could complicate other U.S. foreign policy priorities in the region, and that could translate into a different political problem for the president as he cranks up his reelection campaign.

I"m sure a besieged administration is hoping it doesn't happen, but they'd darned well better be prepared if it does.
 

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