Each day brings a new parade of horribles for President Obama’s foreign policy. Iran celebrates the phony election Bashar al-Assad will hold, his stamp of self-approval and his defiance in remaining atop the blood-soaked country despite the Obama administration’s rhetoric. The administration ignores Congress and trades an alleged deserter for five high-ranking Taliban members — after sacrificing U.S. lives to try to recover the AWOL soldier. And in the nonexistent “peace process,” the figure Obama called a “man of peace” has now further humiliated the U.S. president.
Palestinians overcame last-minute squabbles to form a new “government of national unity” Monday, backed by the Islamist militant group Hamas, which the United States and Israel have branded a terrorist organization.
The announcement of the transitional government, led by the moderate Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and with ministries run mostly by technocrats, represents a significant step toward ending a seven-year feud between the Palestinian political factions that separately control the West Bank and the Gaza Strip .
It also appears to skirt, barely, U.S. prohibitions on aid to a Palestinian government that has “undue” Hamas presence or influence. The Obama administration had worked behind the scenes to suggest terms for the new coalition government that would not trigger the U.S. ban, reasoning that the money helps preserve American leverage.
Well, Obama was half right: Abbas made a deal to stop fighting — but it was with the terrorist organization Hamas and not with Israel. I suppose Abbas was not the man of peace Obama thought he was.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies analogizes the situation to Lebanon: “The lumping together of these two rival Palestinian political factions that have been warring for much of the last three decades also sounds a lot like the politics of Lebanon. While the divisions between Lebanon’s political factions fall along sectarian lines, Lebanon’s problems are reinforced by years of domestic conflict. The result is a deeply divided and dysfunctional country characterized by political gridlock. Over time, Lebanon has seen the emergence of Hezbollah enclaves that fall beyond the reach of the government.”
In any event, Israel, U.S. lawmakers and pro-Israel groups across the political spectrum condemned the Palestinian Authority’s actions. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), issued a joint statement warning the PA about the consequences of reunification with Hamas, namely a potential cutoff of aid. Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wrote a joint letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in which they called on him to publicly state that there would be an immediate cutoff of relevant assistance to the PA should a unity government fail to comply with the requirements set forth in the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which prohibits aid to Hamas or to entities controlled by Hamas or entities over which Hamas has “undue influence.” Pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Political Affairs Committee stopped just short of demanding a cutoff of aid: “U.S. law is clear – no funds can be provided to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence. We now urge Congress to conduct a thorough review of continued U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the law is completely followed and implemented.”
The most reasonable solution might be to cut off all aid to any entity or subdivision of the PA that includes Hamas associated members. That may mean that only funding for the PA security forces will continue. But in the current circumstances what does that even mean? There is now grave doubt that the PA is going to sniff out and cooperate in arresting terrorists of its new “partner.” The mess that now ensues represents a complete repudiation of the president’s fixation on the “peace process” and proof positive that his anger at Israel was entirely unjustified. Even the notion of building up civil society in the West Bank becomes problematic when funds can easily be diverted to Hamas in the West Bank.
It is entirely unclear what U.S. policy will be going forward. “Unity” governments between the PA and Hamas have collapsed before, and perhaps we will be lucky this time as well. It nevertheless is indisputable that under the Obama administration the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become far worse and U.S. influence with the parties far weaker. Smart diplomacy? Hardly.