By Eugene Bird and Carlton Cobb
The Hamas takeover of Gaza is only the latest tragic result of a series of U.S.-Israeli missteps in the Middle East. America’s failed intervention in Palestinian politics, however, is likely to have a far greater negative impact on U.S. interests than other recent interventions in the region, including Lebanon and Iraq.
After pressing Palestinians to hold free and fair elections in January 2006, the U.S. and Israel led an effort to nullify the results and collapse the Hamas-led government through economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation – and by arming and training the defeated opposition, Fatah. The U.S. refusal to recognize the newly-formed unity government between Fatah and Hamas made conflict inevitable.
During the Oslo peace process, Hamas had less than fifteen percent support among Palestinians. But Fatah’s efforts in negotiating with Israel failed to produce tangible improvements in Palestinian daily life and allowed Israel a free hand to increase Jewish-only settlement construction in the West Bank. Later developments, including the Clinton Administration’s attempt to force a palatable peace process on Yasser Arafat, Yitzhakh Rabin’s assassination, and Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, helped to push support for Hamas to more than forty-five percent in last year’s Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt can be at all happy with the Bush Administration undermining the Mecca agreement and the Arab League proposal for a final settlement. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invested a lot in bringing about a coalition government that he thought could be acceptable to the Americans, with key ministries in the hands of techonocrats or Fatah members. Egypt was shocked to be brought into an attempt to overthrow the security system of Hamas in Gaza by funneling more than 400 Palestinian police cadets into the strip, which set off a mini-civil war and ended with the Egyptians and Fatah beating a hasty retreat through the Rafah crossing point.
So what do we do now, with the United States entwined with Israel even more closely than before in its confrontation with two successful religious nationalist movements, Hezbollah and Hamas? It would be sensible to open negotiations aimed at solidifying the control of these movements by moderates. Instead, all the indicators are that we intend to blindly stumble down the path to further confrontation, which is not in the interest of the United States.
The President is making a speech this Sunday, June 24th, which may reveal a better strategy than is being urged on him by Prime Minister Olmert and members of his Israel lobby here in the United States, to continue the confrontation with the Palestinian and Lebanese religious nationalists and to open a harsher period in U.S. policy towards Iran.
No one seems to be listening in Washington, except for a small group of congressmen and senators who have expressed fear and foreboding about what may be considered Plan B for the Middle East.