Palestinian unity: danger of a West Bank Hamastan
With enhanced legitimacy from Obama’s America, there is the danger of a creeping Hamastan emerging in the West Bank. Obama has a blind spot about 'moderate' Islamism in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular
Washington's decision to rush headlong into recognising the new Hamas-Fatah unity government makes little strategic sense and represents yet another rebuke to Israel. It will be seen for what it is: an absurd political decision emanating from a myopic administration which has lost all credibility in the region.
Abbas's decision to enter a unity government with Hamas, announced only days ago, was designed to solve a 'legitimacy gap' whereby he did not rule over or speak for the Palestinian citizens of Gaza.
But now there is a gaping 'credibility gap' because while the PA ostensibly fulfils the conditions of the Quartet (recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, recognition of previous agreements), the Islamic terrorists in Gaza do not.
Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews across the world. The group also pours scorn on the concept of peace agreements and negotiated settlements with Israel, rejecting compromise in any form. Its deep loathing for world Jewry is formed by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as the tropes of Islamic antisemitism.
Washington's argument that the new unity government merely consists of technocrats with no Hamas affiliation won't wash either. The terrorist organisation will have vetted ministers and given its blessing to the government's composition. It is undeniably a key player in the administration and will have derived strength and legitimacy from this agreement.
With enhanced legitimacy, there is the danger of a creeping Hamastan emerging in the West Bank just as it did in Gaza. With Hamas as his ally, Abbas has less reason to crackdown on Islamist terrorists in his own backyard, endangering the security co-operation built up over many years with Israel.
Hamas could see its standing boosted in the West Bank, a considerable danger considering that elections are due to be held in the next 6 months.
It is with these dangers in mind that Washington's impulsive embrace of the unity government, followed by that of the EU and the UN, seems so ill advised.
The Obama administration could have and should have insisted that Hamas accept the Quartet conditions publicly. It should have demanded the abrogation of the Hamas Charter as a precondition for working with the new administration.
It should have extended recognition on the basis of genuine reform rather than the glib assurances of the ageing Fatah leader.
Instead, recognition has been handed over on a plate for virtually nothing, much to the chagrin of Israeli leaders. Hamas, an internationally proscribed terrorist organisation, has received legitimacy where none is deserved.
Perhaps this is little surprising. Hamas is a Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's leading Islamist organisation. During his first term, Obama went out of his way to accommodate the Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt.
Having spurned Hosni Mubarak, the President engaged with Mohammed Morsi, at least partly in the belief that newly 'democratised' Islamists could reject their jihadi roots, renounce violence and become respectable political players.
When Morsi, true to his colours, spurned democracy by cracking down on his opponents, attacking judicial independence and failing to protect the Copts, Washington reacted as if nothing had happened.
America’s ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, declared: “The fact is they ran in a legitimate election and won".
But democracy is about more than just winning the vote. It is about respecting checks and balances in the constitution, allowing an independent judiciary and protecting minorities. Morsi failed these tests blatantly.
The Obama administration has a blind spot about 'moderate' Islamism, which may help explain its sanguine approach to the Hamas-Fatah agreement. There is a belief that if only Islamists are given responsibility and brought into government, they become pragmatists and are thereby restrained.
Yet there is nothing moderate about Islamism which is virulently racist, homophobic, illiberal and anti-western. Given power, Islamists resort to imposing their jihadist agenda, and exporting it where possible, with lethal consequences for their opponents.
Morsi's victory in Egypt heralded a setback for genuine democrats and a Hamas victory in the West Bank will be little different. Western leaders, kindly take note.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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