Obama and Israel’s election

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President Barack Obama must think very highly of the Fatah terror group. In his first foray into foreign affairs after being sworn into office last week, Obama telephoned Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and pledged his support for Palestinian statehood.

Unfortunately for Obama, Fatah is not particularly interested in statehood. On Monday, Fatah representatives met Hamas representatives in Cairo for the first time in ten months. The aim of their discussions was to determine the modalities for the reestablishment of the Fatah-Hamas unity government in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. That government was established through Saudi mediation in March 2007 and lasted until Hamas ousted Fatah forces from Gaza in a bloody Iranian-sponsored coup in June 2007.

After the meeting ended, Fatah's representative Azzam al-Ahmad told reporters his group was very excited about the prospect of reuniting with their brothers in Hamas. He also said Hamas would not agree to a cease-fire with Israel until after it had reinstated its unity agreement with Fatah. Hamas’s representative for his part said his group demands that Fatah cut off all of its negotiations with Israel in exchange for reunification.


The Fatah-Hamas meeting marks yet another demonstration that the West’s perception of Fatah as a peace-seeking, national liberation movement is wrong. Fatah’s aims are not peaceful and statehood ranks below destroying Israel on its list of priorities. To understand why this is the case it is necessary to remember what Fatah’s brothers in Hamas are interested in achieving.


Hamas is openly devoted to Israel’s destruction. It willingly placed itself under Iranian control in 2005 because, like Iran, it is uninterested in the establishment of a Palestinian state that will either peacefully coexist with Israel or replace Israel. What Hamas seeks is Israel’s destruction and its replacement with a local caliphate that will eventually become part of the Islamic caliphate that will rule the world.


Given Hamas’s commitment to destroying Israel, it is obvious that Israel's only option is to work for Hamas’s destruction. And so it is clear that for Fatah, peace with Israel means war with Hamas and vice versa. When, on Monday, Fatah’s representative in Egypt reiterated the group's preference for peace with Hamas over peace with Israel, he demonstrated that as far as Fatah is concerned, statehood is not its main priority.


Beyond that, through its desire to cultivate close ties with Hamas, Fatah acknowledges it has no chance of ever supplanting Hamas as Palestinian society’s preferred leadership. During its 2007 coup, Hamas members massacred Fatah personnel all over Gaza and humiliated Fatah’s leadership. In the aftermath of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this month, Hamas forces executed dozens of Fatah members, accusing them of collaborating with the IDF.


These violent assaults on Fatah personnel by Hamas evoked great anger and hostility toward Hamas in Fatah’s ranks. So Fatah’s embrace of Hamas today simply demonstrates its own weakness. In spite of the billions of dollars in aid that the U.S., Europe and Israel have showered on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, the Palestinian people themselves remain devoted to Hamas.


The significance of Fatah's preference for Hamas over Israel seems to have made no impression on the Obama administration. Last Thursday Obama officially appointed former senator George Mitchell to serve as his special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Upon announcing Mitchell’s appointment, Obama pledged, “It is the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”


In plain English what Obama was saying was that Mitchell’s job boils down to exerting massive pressure on Israel to cede Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Fatah. Together with Gaza under Hamas control, these territories are supposed to make up the Palestinian state. We know this is the new administration’s intention because this is Mitchell’s oft-stated intention.


Since his appointment to the same job by former president Clinton in the final months of his presidency — just as Fatah was launching its terror war against Israel together with Hamas and Islamic Jihad — Mitchell has maintained the view that the main obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not Palestinian terror or Palestinian dedication to Israel's destruction. Rather, as far as Mitchell is concerned, the root of the conflict is Israel’s unwillingness to return to the 1949 armistice lines.

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Mitchell was set to arrive in Israel earlier this week for his first “fact-finding mission” as presidential envoy. The timing of his mission – two weeks shy of the Knesset elections – raised a number of eyebrows in Israel. Consistent polling data show that Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to win the February 10 elections. Like the right-wing parties that will form the basis of its governing coalition, Likud opposes an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines and does not share the Obama administration’s faith in Fatah as a legitimate partner for peace.


Many in Israel are concerned that Mitchell’s pre-election visit is a bid by the Obama administration to influence the outcome of the Israeli elections by strengthening Kadima, Labor and the other leftist parties against Likud. These concerns are reinforced by repeated private statements from senior members of Obama’s foreign policy team indicating that they view the Israeli Right under Netanyahu as a great threat to their plans to force Israel to withdraw to the 1949 lines.


Both Kadima and Labor have embraced Obama’s clear ideological hostility toward Likud as an electoral asset. Since Obama took office, this hostility has become the major theme of both parties’ campaigns. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as their party surrogates have repeatedly warned voters that if Netanyahu forms a coalition government he will ruin Israel’s relations with the U.S.


These statements by Kadima and Labor make clear just how difficult the next four years of the Obama administration will be for Israel. If the Left wins the elections, then Israel, submitting to U.S. pressure, is likely to expel up to a half-million Israelis from their homes in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, hand the land over to Fatah, which in turn will hand the land over to Hamas, which in turn will hand it over to Iran.


In the aftermath of such action, Israel will find itself surrounded on all sides by Iranian surrogates and lacking the means to defend itself. No doubt the Obama administration will have little interest in coming to Israel’s aid, since by that point Israel will have little residual strategic value to the U.S.


If the Right wins the elections, Israel faces four years of unpleasant relations with the Obama administration that will place an enormous strain both on Israel-U.S. relations, and on the nerves of Israeli citizens. The leftist opposition will be certain to tell the public that the Netanyahu government is to blame for the trans-Atlantic tensions with Washington. These tensions are liable to boil over into open confrontations on issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. military sales to Israel.


On the other hand, if Israel is able to muddle through the Obama years without surrendering land to Fatah-Hamas-Iran, unpleasant relations with Washington will have been a small price to pay. For with Fatah’s renewed attempt to reunite with Hamas, it is clear that any future “peace” with the group will lead only to future wars, instability and weakness that Israel can ill afford.

Originally published in The Jewish Press.

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