On May 16, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to travel to Hamas-ruled Gaza in June. Standing next to U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, Erdogan expressed hope “that my visit can contribute to the [peace] process.”
Elaborating, Erdogan declared that “a negotiating table where Hamas… is not represented cannot produce peace…. For us, Hamas is what Fatah is.” The following day, he reaffirmed that “unity between Fatah and Hamas… has to be achieved.”
It is difficult to fathom that Obama could not have persuaded Erdogan to forgo his trip. The administration, after all, had obliged various Turkish security requests over the implosion in Syria — such as by deploying Patriot missiles along Turkey’s border with Syria earlier this year — in exchange for promises from Erdogan. Obama also could have applied direct pressure on Erdogan, as when he recently strong-armed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into apologizing for the Mavi Marmara incident.
That Obama did not see fit to use similar tactics in this instance suggests he does not have serious reservations about the proposed visit.
While in Israel in March, Obama offered a window into his thinking. In his speech in Jerusalem, he drew a stark distinction between Hamas and Hezbollah.
Speaking of the Bulgarian tour bus bombing last July in which five Israelis were killed, Obama said they had been “blown up because of where they came from… robbed of the ability to live and love and raise families…. That’s why every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is — a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians.”
But his tone was markedly different in speaking about Hamas: “When I consider Israel’s security, I think about… Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot, children… who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live…. That’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”
Far from defining Hamas as a terror organization that murders innocent Israelis, Obama outlined “expectations” for the legitimization of the intolerable.
Following Obama’s speech, Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, revealed that U.S. objections to Hamas-Fatah unification were weakening. Weeks later, the two rival Palestinian factions agreed on a timeline of three months to join forces.
While this may well fail, as have all previous reconciliation attempts, the key lesson must be that, amid an ongoing U.S. push for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it is unlikely that serious talk of such a rapprochement could proceed without tacit U.S. approval.
Reinforcing this perception is the peace summit convened in April by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Heading the Arab delegation was Qatar, one of Hamas’s strongest proponents, which has, over the last two years, spearheaded attempts to create a Palestinian unity government.
In March, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the first head of state to travel to Gaza since Hamas seized power in 2007. The visit, during which the emir pledged $400 million to Gaza’s rulers, prompted Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor to state, “It is quite strange that the emir of Qatar should choose sides within the Palestinian camp.”
It is inconceivable that Qatar does not envision Hamas playing a prominent role in creating and governing any future Palestinian state. It is equally implausible that the Obama administration is oblivious to the emir’s position.
Efforts to whitewash Hamas are being conducted on two parallel tracks. First, with the Arab Spring having brought to power Sunni Islamist governments across the Middle East, through attempts by regional leaders to engender an allied Sunni front, including Hamas.
Second, and far more distressing, is the apparent policy shift by some Western countries.
An increasing number of Western proponents of the two-state solution have finally concluded that this paradigm is unworkable as long as the Palestinians themselves are divided politically. Moreover, these “a-peace-ers” appear to have belatedly realized that an end-of-conflict agreement is impossible when much of the Palestinian population supports, and is led by, an overtly genocidal faction.
But instead of accepting the obvious — that Hamas’s annihilationist agenda precludes peace with Israel — their new “solution” appears aimed at gradually rebranding Hamas as “moderate,” as a prelude to incorporating it into the diplomatic process. (If this sounds eerily familiar, it is how Israel got stuck dealing with arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat in the early 1990s).
Cognisant of this charade, dovish Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was recently dispatched to reaffirm Israel’s position, that there is no chance of reaching a peace agreement with Hamas.
Although an important first step, Livni’s lone interview with Army Radio was grossly inadequate to convey the government’s stance on such a paramount issue.
While her message goes largely unheard, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh proclaimed in December that “the time has come for the U.S. and EU to remove Hamas from the list of designated terrorist organizations,” and the Hamas politburo continues to lobby foreign governments discretely to have it delisted as a terror organization.
To counter this trend, Israel must mobilize its diplomatic forces and use all means necessary to ensure that Haniyeh’s wish is never granted.
Charles Bybelezer, a freelance journalist, recently made aliyah from Canada.