Big news today. Hamas, Fatah and the new Egyptian government have pulled off a masterful coup and negotiated in total secrecy an agreement that would reconcile the two previously warring factions in a unity government. The plan is startling for a number of reasons. First, because the Palestinians have been unable to agree on anything for the past five years. Nor have they ever been able to keep much of a secret over anything that has divided them. Second, because this new Egyptian government as able to accomplish in a few weeks what the Mubarak regime had failed at for several years. Third, because the U.S. was caught completely flat-footed having no idea this was coming. Fourth, because the unity government completely pulls the rug out from under the much ballyhooed Bibi-plan which was to be unfurled before a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress.
Today’s news promises to upend the apple-cart of Middle East consensus in a number of ways. Until now, Bibi had been shrying that the Arab Revolution portended ruin for Israel in a radical new Middle East. He forecast a Muslim Brotherhood led government abrogating the Sinai treaty and generally retreating from peace with Israel.
He’d been sittin’ pretty after besting Pres. Obama over settlements and wangling a coveted invitation from the Republican Speaker of the House to showcase his new “peace plan” before a Joint Session of Congress. Bibi has now been left in the dust to sputter with rage and threaten the end of a peace process which only he and Obama found credible. And he has only himself to blame. He’s fulminating saying the PA must decide whether it’s for peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. I guess it’s chosen, hasn’t it? Peace with Israel was, thanks to Bibi’s filibustering, a bust. So what was the PA’s only other choice? If it wanted to present the world community with a united front come September the PA almost had no other choice but to reunite with Hamas.
If Hamas and the PA can succeed in this venture, then they have a much more credible claim for a new state. It remains to be seen whether two movements which hitherto have had nothing but disdain for each other can carry this through. If they did it would be a major achievement and signal they are ready to create their new state. But there definitely needs to be a new leadership especially on the Fatah side. If Obama has any smarts he will pressure the Israelis hard to release Marwan Barghouti from prison. He appears to be one of the only Palestinian political figures who could unite both factions. Israel will naturally not wish to do anything to encourage such success and will resist releasing anyone who can further derail their do-nothing “peace policy.”
The Obama administration risks becoming even more irrelevant than it already is if it doesn’t do a 180° turn and radically rethink its approach to the Palestinians. Cozying up to Bibi as he’s done for the past few months will bring him nothing now.
Finally, if the Palestinians do pull this off (by no means a given), then Abbas’ plan to raise the flag of a new Palestinian state at this fall’s General Assembly meeting begins to look more and more feasible. A reunited Palestinian cause makes an infinitely more credible argument before the international community.
Egypt too has surprised everyone. Predictions by the Israelis and their neocon supporters in Washington were that the Brothers were standing by to take over the government along with their army allies. Now we see the new government in only a few weeks accomplishing a task Mubarak didn’t achieve in years. It makes you wonder what else democratic Arab governments might be able to accomplish which their autocratic predecessors couldn’t or wouldn’t tackle. With this single success the new governments that resulted from the Arab Spring have established even more credibility than they already had. It has given a shot of adrenalin to the movement for Arab freedom.
Much can happen to derail this efforts. I predict the Israelis will do all in their power to provoke mischief including assassinating Hamas leadership if given the opportunity. Plus Palestinians themselves could cause this to implode.
Obama, it seems to me has a fateful decision to make: is he on the train to Palestinian nationhood or is he staying on the road to nowhere with Bibi et al. Is he going to embrace the Arab push for freedom and liberty or is he going to make his bed with the Old Guard Mubaraks, Assads and Bibis. If it were me the decision would be easy. But then again I don’t have the set of conflicting interests he has.
These are fateful days, Mr. President. Which side are you on, tell me which side are you on.
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