Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Hamas and the Washington establishment
To date, the Republican presidential primary race has been the only place to have generated any useful contributions to America's collective understanding of current events in the Middle East. Last month, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich became the first major political figure in more than a generation to pour cold water over the Palestinian myth of indigenous peoplehood by stating the truth, that the Palestinians are an "invented people."
As Gingrich explained, their invention came in response to Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement. Since they were created somewhere around 1920, the Palestinians' main purpose has not been the establishment of a Palestinian state but the obliteration of the Jewish state.
For his truth telling, Gingrich was attacked by fellow politicians and policy hands on both sides of the ideological divide. To his credit, Gingrich has not backed away from the truth he spoke. Rather he has repeated it in two subsequent Republican candidates' debates.
The second important contribution that Republican presidential candidates have made to the discourse on the Middle East was undertaken by Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a candidates' debate in South Carolina on January 17, shortly before he pulled out of the race. When asked about Turkey, Perry said that country "is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists." He went on to say that the US ought to be having a debate about whether Turkey should continue to serve as a member of NATO.
Like Gingrich, Perry was pilloried by all right thinking people in the US foreign policy elite. And like Gingrich, Perry was right. The hoopla his statement generated showed just how destructive so much of America's received wisdom about the Middle East has become. Moreover, it demonstrated the extent to which the US has adopted Middle East policies that are inimical to its national interests.
After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006, Turkey was the first country to invite Hamas's terror master Khaled Mashal to Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan's move provoked criticism from the Bush administration. But Erdogan just shrugged it off. And he was right to do so. By 2006, then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had come to view Erdogan as the US's indispensable ally in the Muslim world. As she saw it, he was proof that Islamist parties could be democratic and moderate.
The fact that Erdogan embraced Hamas could not get in the way of Rice's optimistic assessment. So, too, the fact that Erdogan embarked on a systematic campaign to stifle press freedom, curb judicial independence and imprison his political critics in the media and the military could not move Rice from her view that Erdogan personified her belief that moderate jihadists exist and ought to be embraced by the US.
Rice's starry-eyed view of Erdogan set the stage of US President Barack Obama's even stronger embrace of the increasingly tyrannical Turkish Islamist. Since Obama took office, not only has Ankara stepped up its support of Hamas, and ended even the pretense of a continued strategic alliance with Israel that it maintained during the Bush years. Turkey began serving as Iran's chief diplomatic protector while vastly expanding its own strategic and economic ties with Tehran.
In the face of Turkey's openly anti-American behavior and actions, Obama clings to Erdogan even more strongly than Rice did. Obama reportedly views Erdogan as his most trusted foreign adviser. According to the media, Obama speaks with Erdogan more often than he speaks to any other foreign leader. In a recent interview with Time magazine, Obama listed Erdogan as one of the key foreign leaders with whom he has formed a friendship based on trust.
Over the past few weeks, Turkey has emerged as Hamas's largest financier. During an official visit in Turkey, Hamas's terror master in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh received a hero's welcome. Erdogan pledged to finance the jihadist movement to the tune of $300 million per year.
COMMENTATORS CLAIM that Turkey's sponsorship of Hamas was necessitated by Iran's abandonment of the terror group. Iran, it is claimed, cut Hamas off in August due to the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood's refusal to actively assist Iran's other Arab client - Syrian President Bashar Assad - in massacring his domestic opponents.
These analyses are problematic for two reasons. First, it is far from clear that Iran cut Hamas off. Iran's rulers have invited Haniyeh to Tehran for an official visit. This alone indicates that the mullahs remain committed to maintaining their relationship with the jihadist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.
And why would they want to cut off that relationship?
By serving as Hamas's chief sponsor since 2006, Iran has won enormous credibility in the Arab world. This credibility has bought Tehran influence with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and beyond. Particularly now, with the Brotherhood taking over Egypt and much of the Arab world, Iran would only stand to lose by cutting off Hamas.
The second problem with these assessments is that it makes little sense to believe that Turkey has replaced Iran as Hamas's main state sponsor since Iran and Turkey are not necessarily competing over Hamas. Given the interests shared by Tehran and Ankara, it is far more reasonable to assume that they are coordinating their moves regarding Hamas.
Iran became Hamas's chief financier and weapons supplier the same year that Erdogan emerged as Hamas's most important political supporter. And in the six years since then, Iran and Turkey have become strategic allies. Even with regards to Syria, the fact that Assad remains in power today is due in no small measure to the fact that Erdogan has used his influence over Obama to ensure that the US has remained on the sidelines and so effectively supported Assad's survival.
In light of Erdogan's enormous influence over leaders in both US parties, it is little wonder that Perry's factual statement about the nature of the Turkish government and the need for the US to reassess its strategic alliance with Turkey provoked such an across the board outcry. Erdogan's close relationship with Obama - like his previously close relationship with Rice - renders it well nigh impossible for US government officials and inside-the Beltway "experts" to make the kind of commonsense assessments of Turkey's counterproductive regional role that an outsider like Perry was able to make from his perch in Austin, Texas.
CONTRARY TO what several leading commentators have argued since the onset of the Syrian popular rebellion against Assad, Hamas has not been seriously damaged by the events. True, its leaders are looking for a new place to station their headquarters. But there is no law that requires terrorist organizations to have one central office. The families of Hamas's leadership have decamped to Jordan. Hamas leaders have close relations with the Qataris - who remain major funders - as well as with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Sudanese regime.
In addition to these state supporters, through its relations with Turkey and Fatah, Hamas has Washington as well. To understand how Washington acts as Hamas's protector, it is necessary to consider not only the corrosive impact of Washington's relations with Turkey, but also the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Since its inception in 1993, the peace process has been predicated on Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. To the extent that Israel makes concessions, the peace process is seen as advancing. To the extent that Israel fails to make concessions, the peace process is seen as collapsing. True, at certain times, the Bush administration blamed the Palestinians for the failure of the peace process, but the blame owed to the fact that Palestinian terrorism made Israel less amenable to concession making.
Palestinian terrorism was not in and of itself blamed for the demise of the peace process. Rather it was perceived as the means through which Israel avoided making more concessions. And at certain times, the US supported Israel's avoidance of concession making.
Since Israeli concessions to the Palestinians are the only tangible component of the peace process, the US, as the chief sponsor of the peace process, requires the Palestinian Authority - run by Fatah - to be accepted as a credible repository for Israeli concessions regardless of its actual nature. Consequently, despite Fatah's two unity deals with Hamas, its sponsorship of terrorism, its incitement of terrorism, its refusal to accept Israel's right to exist, its adoption of negotiating positions that presuppose Israel's demise, and its conduct of political warfare against Israel, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration ever showed the slightest willingness to consider ending their support for the PA.
If Israel has no peace partner, then it can't make concessions. And if it can't make concessions, there is no peace process. And that is something that neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration was willing to countenance.
It is true that under Obama the US has become far more hostile towards Israel than it was under Bush. The most important distinction between the two is that whereas George W. Bush sought to broker a compromise deal between the two sides, Obama has adopted Fatah's negotiating positions against Israel. As a consequence of Obama's actions, the peace process has been derailed completely. Fatah has no reason to compromise since the US will blame Israel no matter what. And Israel has no reason to make concessions since the US will deem them insufficient.
Noting this distinction, Washington Post commentator Jennifer Rubin wrote this week that for the benefit of the peace process, it is important for a Republican administration to be elected to replace Obama in November. As she put it, "If history is any guide, progress is made in the 'peace process' when the Israeli prime minister operates from a position of strength and has the full support of the US president. We might get there, albeit not until 2013."
The problem with her analysis is that it is of a piece with the insiders' attacks on Gingrich and Romney alike. That is, it is based on the false assumptions of the peace process and the generally accepted wisdom embraced by the American foreign policy elite on both sides of the aisle that the PA is a reasonable repository for Israeli concessions.
Here it is worth noting that this week Fatah-controlled PA TV aired a sequence venerating the murderers of the Fogel family. Udi and Ruth Fogel and their children Yoav, Elad and Hadas were brutally murdered in their home last March.
Fatah's glorification of their murderers is yet further proof that the foundations of the peace process are false. Peace cannot be based on appeasing societies that uphold mass murderers as role models. It can only be based on empowering free societies to defeat societies that embrace murder, terror and in the case of Hamas, genocide.
And this brings us back to the Republican primaries and Gingrich's and Perry's statements. For the US to secure its interests in the Middle East, it requires leaders who are willing to reassess what passes for common wisdom on both sides of the aisle.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.