Former Clinton administration official Robert Malley took to the the Washington Post yesterday to explain why the “least significant” aspect of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal is its impact on the peace process.
Let’s hear him out.
Malley, who served as a special assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs under Bill Clinton, says the reconcilation agreement – which officially brings Hamas, a known terrorist entity, into the governing fold — has everything to do with the so-called “Arab Spring” that’s spreading across the Middle East.
Hamas and Fatah didn’t make nice because they admire freedom and democracy, but because the political upheavel has fundamentally altered the region.
“The parties did not suddenly overcome mutual distrust,” Malley writes. “Rather, both are feeling the aftershocks of the momentous changes sweeping the Middle East.”
Fatah lost a principal ally — Hosni Mubarak — in Egypt, where the governmental vacuum has empowered the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Hamas, Malley writes.
Democratic revolution has, for the time being, empowered Egypt’s more fanatical parties, and thus Hamas, but Malley still believes that a “Palestinian reconciliation was more likely a prerequisite than an obstacle to peace.”
He writes: ”So far, U.S. reactions to the unexpected agreement have been predictably negative, with Washington warning against forming a reconciled government with an unreformed Hamas. In so doing, it appears to view this deal through the obsolete prism of a moribund peace process and a frozen conflict between a moderate and militant axis. Instead, it should assess the agreement against the backdrop of a fast-changing Middle East.”
Many, however, are skeptical given Hamas’ passion for firing missiles at Israeli citizens and its open hostility towards the peace process — not to mention its all too predictable condemnation of the Osama Bin Laden murder mission. (And, just today, Hamas’ Khaled Meshal told the New York Times that he was “fully committed to working for a two-state solution,” though he also “declined to swear off violence or agree that a Palestinian state would produce an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”)
After reading the Malley piece, I asked a few experts to weigh in.
Hadar Susskind, J Street’s vice president of policy and strategy, agreed that the Arab Spring is what sparked the joint Hamas-Fatah venture.
“It’s not analysis,” Susskind said. “It is a fact that this is a response to the Arab Spring.”
Susskind is well aware that the unity deal is “a political move, but I think overwhelmingly, this is what [the Palestinian people] want.”
Hamas’ “reprehensible” response to the Bin Laden murder, he added, “is part of the internal Palestinian conflict over whether this unity is a good idea or not.”
And, despite the rhetoric, “nobody knows what this is going to mean,” Susskind explained, adding that, “several weeks ago, people on the right were arguing that a lack of Palestinian unity was a reason to say, ‘You can’t make peace.’ ”
While the Obama administration has sent disparate signs when discussing the deal, most seem to believe a Palestinian unity government would not be eligible to receive U.S. aid due to Hamas’ designation as a terrorist group.
But, at this point, “none of us knows what they’re going to do,” Susskind said. “It’s entirely possible they’re putting their own political house in order, and, in the absence of a peace process, they’re going forward with their [unilateral] U.N. strategy [for statehood] even at the expense of U.S. aid.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, Matthew RJ Brodsky dismissed the reconciliation deal outright.
Is it really smart to “take militant groups and bring them into the government just because they exist?” wondered Brodsky, director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center.
Fatah won’t be able to moderate Hamas by giving it a legitimate role in the government, said Brodsky. “The same thing was thought about Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it’s not the case.”
“Having a government that leans more militant,” he added, “doesn’t make anything easier — It’s simple math. In fact, it complicates things.”
Brodsky also disagreed with Malley’s belief that Arab revolutions spurred the unity deal. “It’s more for domestic reasons in Palestinian politics. It’s a marriage of temporary convenience geared toward gaining unilateral international recognition of statehood at the UN in September.”
The “real issue,” Brodsky said, “is when it comes to negotiations, both sides — Hamas and Fatah — must reconcile their red lines, and Abbas should return to the negotiating table.”
On that front, Susskind might agree.
When it comes down to it, Susskind noted, “Palestinian unity is essential to the end of the conflict. That’s a fact. In the shortterm, however, “this step, the way it’s going, raises a lot of questions, concerns and challenges. It doesn’t make anybody’s life easier this week.”