The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh has published a really shocking piece today about Palestinian — both Fatah and Hamas — understanding of Obama administration policy.
If Palestinian interpretations of US policy — in the case of Hamas, gleaned from Egyptian intermediaries, and for Fatah, directly from envoy George Mitchell — are close to correct, then the Obama administration has moved even further from Israel and closer to the Arabs than we had thought.
Immediately after Obama’s Cairo speech, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was cautious:
Of course I listened to the speech. The words are different from those used by Bush. The speech was cleverly written in the way it addressed the Muslim world– using phrases from the Holy Kor’an, and referring to some historical events. And also, in the way it showed respect to the Muslim heritage. But I think it’s not enough!
What’s needed are deeds, actions on the ground, and a change of policies. — Khaled Mashaal quoted in Foreign Policy
Mashaal went on to say that the US had to accept Hamas as part of the Palestinian Authority (PA), force Israel to open crossings, end settlement activity, remove checkpoints, change policies on Jerusalem and “right of return”, etc.
But Abu Toameh reports that since then his attitude toward Obama has grown more favorable:
“Obama is talking in a new language, one that is different from the voice we used to hear from the previous US administration,” Mashaal said in an interview with the Palestinian daily Al-Kuds. “Obama avoided branding our resistance operations terrorism, but he made a mistake when he compared the situation of the Palestinians to that of blacks in America…”
According to sources close to Hamas, the Egyptians this week told Mashaal that the Obama administration would exert pressure on Israel to lift the blockade and launch indirect talks with Hamas, if the Islamic movement agreed to a long-term cease-fire, and ended its power struggle with the rival Fatah faction.
Mashaal, the sources added, was told by the Egyptians that calm in the Gaza Strip would make it easier for the Obama administration to put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make far-reaching concessions. Mashaal is reported to have expressed his movement’s readiness to pursue reconciliation talks with Fatah and maintain the relative calm in Gaza.
If this means that the US is thinking about Hamas participation in the PA without accepting the “Quartet conditions” (recognition of Israel, ending terrorism and accepting prior Israel-PA agreements), then this is a very significant movement.
Of course, the US has already backtracked on several commitments made to Israel. The issue of allowing natural growth in Jewish communities located across the Green Line is just one of them. In 2004, President Bush wrote to then-PM Ariel Sharon and said
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…
It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, as part of any final status agreement, will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than Israel…
This was intended to help persuade Sharon to withdraw from Gaza, and apparently it succeeded, to our great sorrow. The State Department started wriggling out of it as soon as the last Jew was gone from Gaza, and now it is only a fond memory.
The Palestinians are as happy as pigs in mud, concludes Abu Toameh:
Hamas is desperate to end the state of isolation it has been in since the movement came to power in 2006. It feels there is a good chance that the Obama administration, through its conciliatory approach toward radical Muslims and Arabs, would assist it in winning recognition and legitimacy in the international arena. So far, the messages that Hamas has been receiving from Washington – through the Egyptians, Saudis and Qataris – are, as far as Mashaal and Haniyeh are concerned, very positive and encouraging.
Similarly, the PA leadership in the West Bank has every reason to be satisfied with the apparent shift in US policy on the Middle East. Some PA officials emerged from this week’s talks with Mitchell with big smiles on their faces. The Obama administration, one of them boasted, has almost entirely endorsed the Palestinian stance on major issues like settlements, the two-state solution and Jerusalem. [my emphasis]