Netanyahu plans to counter US acceptance of Palestinian unity by blocking West Bank elections
The US and European decision to continue funding the Palestinians under their new, Hamas-backed government, is a landmark: For the first time, the US and Europe will be bankrolling an organization branded under their own laws as terrorist, as well as its armed militia, the Ezz e-Din al-Qassam, debkafile’s counterterrorism sources note.
The structure of the Fatah-Hamas coalition government, sworn in by Mahmoud Abbas under prime minister Rami Hamdullah in Ramallah Monday, June 2, says it all: From that date, the Hamas regime ruling the Gaza Strip is dissolved and its prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and ministers step down. They are replaced by the government of reconciliation in Ramallah, which is henceforth responsible for ruling both territories, and running their public services, education, health, and law and order enforcement.
The Islamist Hamas ruled the Gaza for seven years after ousting Fatah in a coup. Now, to the relief of its rulers, it is able to shrug off the responsibility for scrounging for half a billion dollars a year to sustain the territory’s 1.8 million inhabitants – especially now that Gaza is under siege by Egypt as well as Israel.
The people of Gaza will be fed, clothed, housed and educated with the help of the financial aid the US and EU have pledged the government in Ramallah. And Hamas is now free to devote its resources from other quarters to maintaining its own, automous security and militia branches – its tools of terror – numbering 20,000 serving and reserve personnel.
Those resources are provided by Qatar, Gulf tycoons, Iran and Hizballah.
The Palestinian power-sharing deal has therefore maneuvered the Obama administration and European Union into supporting the efforts of Iran and fellow radicals for keeping Hamas alive as a viable operational arm, in keeping with Tehran’s objectives – and in direct conflict with the interests of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has found no answer to this dangerous development.
He commented Tuesday: “I'm deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas, which has murdered countless innocent civilians.” He then appealed to “all those who genuinely seek peace to reject President Abbas' embrace of Hamas… as simply unacceptable.”
That appeal, much like Netanyahu’s rhetoric on the Iranian nuclear issue, fell on deaf ears, because it was not backed by action. It only underscored the disarray in Israeli government circles over the international points Abbas had scored by healing the breach in the Palestinian movement.
Some ministers, led by right-wing members of Netanyahu’s Likud and Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home, are saying that talk is not enough: Israel should hit back at Washington’s willingness to do business with the Hamas-backed Palestinian regime by annexing settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria.
However, the Netanyahu government set itself on course toward this blind alley in November 2012 when, instead of letting the IDF finish Operation Pillar of Defense to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip after its decade-long missile campaign against Israel, the prime minister accepted a premature ceasefire, orchestrated by the US. He accepted the Hamas’ inclusion in a US-led diplomatic process. That process was part of Barack Obama’s grand design to establish a “moderate” Muslim bloc composed of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey, that would form a bridge to the Palestinian Hamas.
Netanyahu’s acceptance of this arrangement proved short-sighted: The Muslim Brothers no longer rule Egypt, the Qatar emir was ousted in a coup and Hillary Clinton may not even remember how she powered this short-lived process as Secretary of State.
But in Israel, the chickens came to roost. Mahmoud Abbas decided to take advantage of the plight of the radical Hamas. He also recognized that President Obama had never given up the hope of reconciling the two wings of the Palestinian movement. He gambled on the Hamas card and it paid off.
Netanyahu is left casting about for a strategy to even the score. He hopes his chance will come when elections to the Palestinian parliament and presidency come around in six months – that is if they take place on schedule and if the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation lasts that long.
He confided to his close advisers Tuesday, June 3, that he is determined not to let those elections take place and so repeat the mistake made by his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who permitted the vote, knowing that Hamas would sweep the board and seize control of the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. Olmert acted under pressure from Washington. There is no guarantee that Netanyahu will behave any differently.