CHANGING THE MIDDLE EAST, OBAMA STYLE
By Micah Halpern
Tuesday April 28, 2009
Change, the central theme of the Obama campaign, is now insinuating itself into Middle East policy.
The LA Times recently reported that the Obama administration has asked Capitol Hill to change the law on Hamas. If the president was asking for only slight alterations, even a few cosmetic modifications to the way the United States handles Hamas, Congress might let it slide. But no, this is true change, big change.
As it now stands, it is against the law in the United States to send money that in any way will benefit Hamas either directly or even indirectly. US funds may not support the terrorist organization Hamas or the terrorists of Hamas. Congress has been very clear on this matter. So clear on this matter that Congress came to their decision without the prodding of the "Israel Lobby" or any other "pro" Israel group.
The change President Barack Obama is requesting would alter bedrock assumptions about Hamas and terror. It would permit Hamas' people to be part of a Palestinian unity government if the individuals themselves were not terrorists, just leaders of a terrorist organization.
For the United States Congress, this distinction will not be about political expedience. It will not be about prevailing winds. For Congress it is not a test of friendship between the United States and Israel. Should the Obama change be implemented that friendship will change quickly and completely, perhaps irrevocably.
The men and women on The Hill view dealings with Hamas, the avowed and acknowledged terrorist organization, as an issue of right and wrong. Israel is right and Hamas is wrong. Congress was not planning on altering its stance vis a vis Hamas until Hamas altered its stances on what Congress considers four essential givens. Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist, must renounce terror, must actively try to prevent terror, must agree to abide by and honor previous agreements. If change of any sort was expected, it was expected to come from Hamas, not from the United States.
Congress is not alone. These four stipulations were laid down by the Quartet the last time an opportunity arose for Hams to join a Palestinian Unity government. The Quartet, a group composed of Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations, is not what anyone could call an overly demanding group when it comes to making demands on Hamas. But even then Hamas was unwilling to meet the demands.
So why does this administration want to bring about this change? The Obama administration likes to look at things, even tried and true, iron clad, basic rules of diplomacy, differently. The Obama administration wants to challenge "what has always been done" and transform it into "what we are now doing."
In some ways challenging basic issues and ideas is refreshing. But it can also be dangerous. And the people who will be paying the price for this particular change in policy towards Hamas don't live in Washington D.C. they live in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Sderot. It is Israelis who will be paying the price for Barack Obamas' creative zeal. The new kids on Pennsylvania Avenue will be sitting back, watching their experiment play out from a safe and comfortable distance.
The White House's argument is that they are doing this out of their love and commitment for Israel. They will say that this is not an anti Israel stance, that it is an incentive package for Hamas.
Hamas will not change because Hamas does not want to change. Hamas will neither stop terror nor renounce terror. Hamas may pretend to be a political organization, but terror is their trade. Hamas will not accept Israel. That is clear. And now, in the midst of this era of new ideas, it is becoming clearer and clearer that neither will the present day ruling faction within the Palestinian Authority.
Just a few weeks ago Mohamed Dahlan, probably the second most publicly recognized person in Fatah and second only to Mahmoud Abbas, clearly stated that just because the government had to accept Israel, it does not automatically follow that Fatah, the ruling party in the PA, must accept Israel. The government needs to recognize Israel because of world politics, but that fact does not reflect a change in the policy of Fatah.
And now Abbas is even challenging the principle of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as a sine qua non for movement in the peace process. Abbas came out and said "no" it is not. He said "they can call themselves what they want but I do not have to accept it. I do not accept it and I say it publicly."
The White House, the Palestinian Authority and Israel are about to go head to head to head. It will all come to a head in May when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu makes his first visit to Washington. The real battle will be waged on Capitol Hill. If the White House successfully convinces the Hill to adopt this new approach towards Hamas it will lead to a revolutionary period in United States diplomacy and the attitude of the United States toward Israel.
If Congress does not stand strong, Israel will truly be all alone. All those ideas of peace and two states will be gone, off the table until some day in the distant future. If Congress does not stand strong hope of containing Hamas inspired terror will be gone. Hamas will emerge stronger and empowered. But true to its mandate, the Obama administration will have brought about change.
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