Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Kerry on?

Elliott Abrams

Elliot Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points" here.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has put enormous effort into the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Most recently, there has been talk of a three-way deal wherein Israel releases 426 prisoners (some of them murderers, and some of them citizens of Israel), the United States releases the spy Jonathan Pollard, and the Palestine Liberation Organization agrees to stay at the negotiating table for a year.
But with today's news, one has to ask, "What is the point?" For today it was announced that Fatah and Hamas "would seek to form an interim unity government within five weeks." "The announcement was made," press reports state, "by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, and Azzam al-Ahmed of Fatah, an envoy of internationally backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas." Of course, similar previous efforts have all failed and this one is likely to fail as well. But it is very striking that while Kerry is working hard to get talks launched, Abbas is working hard to achieve an agreement that would scuttle them.
What is the point of all Kerry's efforts, and of the difficult steps being called for -- such as the release of Pollard and of hundreds of criminals -- if talks will never get off the ground in any event? As I noted in a recent blog post, according to news stories:

The prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday praised a shooting that killed an Israeli and wounded his wife and son as they drove through the West Bank the previous evening en route to a Passover meal. Speaking in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh said the attack outside the city of Hebron "brought back life to the path of resistance" against Israel and warned of more attacks in the Palestinian territory.
That's the same Ismail Haniyeh with whom Abbas is negotiating, and Israel is not going to negotiate with a half-terrorist regime. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke recently about Abbas's efforts:
So instead of moving into peace with Israel, he's moving into peace with Hamas. He has to choose. Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace, so far he hasn't done so.
If Abbas chooses Hamas instead of the negotiations with Israel, I would hope the Obama administration denounces that choice and supports Israel in its unwillingness to proceed with the negotiations. I am aware of the legalistic argument against this view: "No, no. Israel is formally negotiating with the PLO, you see, and Hamas is still not in the PLO, so the Palestinian Authority can be a coalition of Fatah and Hamas but Israel can still just negotiate with Fatah through the PLO."
It seems like nonsense to me. One goal of the new unity government agreement would be to hold elections, by December it is reported, and we may then be right back where we were in 2006. Then, Hamas ran in and won the legislative elections, and our counter-terrorism laws and our principles prevented us from working with a Hamas-dominated government. This could happen again. But even if Hamas does not win a majority, it will have members of the Palestinian parliament and presumably have government ministers with whom we cannot work or even meet. The lesson we should have learned from the mistakes we made in 2006 is that terrorists cannot be allowed to run. The Oslo Accords state that "the nomination of any candidates, parties or coalitions will be refused, and such nomination or registration once made will be canceled, if such candidates, parties or coalitions: (1) commit or advocate racism; or (2) pursue the implementation of their aims by unlawful or non-democratic means."
As Yossi Beilin, a leader of the Israeli Left, once wrote, "There can be no doubt that participation by Hamas in elections held in the Palestinian Authority in January 2006 is a gross violation of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement. Hamas is a movement that has, through its covenant, raised the banner of incitement to hate and kill Jews. That this military organization, appearing as a political party, is allowed to abuse democracy is a prize for terror and violence."
He was right, and the United States should not repeat the error we made in 2006. Kerry should make it clear to Abbas that choosing a unity government with a terrorist group is choosing to end negotiations with Israel -- and that he will end his own efforts should that step be taken.
From "Pressure Points" by Elliot Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.

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