The Charade of Not Talking to Hamas
We're talking to Israeli extremists. Why not to Palestinian extremists, too?
Looming over Hillary Clinton's foray into the Middle East are two extremist movements that aren't likely to be persuaded to support Clinton's vision of a two-state solution. The first is Hamas, which runs Gaza, and the second is the Netanyahu-Lieberman bloc in Israel, which is preparing to take over the Israeli government.
In Egypt yesterday, Clinton reaffirmed America's pledge to give $900 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza. One-third of that will go to Gaza, and she made it clear that all of the aid will be funneled through the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, so it won't end up in the "wrong hands":
We will work with our Palestinian partners, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security, and infrastructure needs. We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is intended, and does not end up in the wrong hands.
She added that the United States will "vigorously pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
In all, the conference of aid donors for Gaza is planning to assemble a $3 billion package for Gaza, the equivalent of $2,000 for each of the 1.5 million Gaza residents. Since most of the cash will be funneled through the PA, it's clear the Abbas and Fayyad will gain patronage points. But Israel still maintains its blockade of Gaza, preventing key items -- such as building materials, like cement -- from reaching rebuilding projects.
Egypt is mediating between Israel and Hamas in search of a workable arrangement, but a deal will be hostage to the Netanyahu regime, which has pledged to destroy Hamas.
Egypt is also taking the lead in trying to reconcile Hamas, Fatah, and other elements of the Palestinian national movement. Were they to succeed, it would confront the Obama administration with a quandary: will Obama send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinians if, indeed, those with the "wrong hands" are part of the equation? The Palestinian dialogue will start in earnest in Cairo on March 10, involving Hamas, Fatah, and several smaller factions, including left-leaning ones and Islamic Jihad. They've created five committees aimed at "forming a national unity government, reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization, rebuilding the security apparatus, preparing for presidential and legislative elections, and the committee of reconciliation."
Theoretically, it ought to be easy to finesse the problem, diplomatically, for the United States. So far, Washington has said it won't talk to Hamas unless the group halts violence and accepts Israel's right to exist. If Hamas does indeed reunite with Fatah in the PA, the United States can use that as an excuse to halt aid, or it can pretend to look the other way and continue the aid on the theory that the PA itself is engaged in two-state talks with Israel.
In fact, Israel is already talking to Hamas, through Egypt's mediation efforts, and if the Hamas-Fatah talks succeed -- with Egypt's help -- Hamas will be at the table there, too. Not talking to Hamas is quickly becoming a charade.
© 2009 The Nation