Why Is the Obama Administration Sabotaging Palestinian Unity Talks?

October 13, 2009 12:28 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily, is reporting that the  "United States sent a message to Egypt stating that it does not support the proposed reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas" on the grounds that it would "undermine negotiations with Israel."

The proposed Hamas and Fatah agreement - which was supposed to be signed this week - would have ended, at least in theory, three years of civil unrest between the two Palestinian factions.  Fatah governs 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians while Hamas governs 1.5 million in Gaza. 

The proposed agreement between the two sides might have failed anyway.  Fatah, the "moderate" faction preferred by the United States and Israel, is in a very weak position to negotiate a decent agreement.  The Obama administration essentially cut Fatah's legs out from under it by abandoning its insistence on a settlement freeze and by joining Prime Minister Netanyahu in condemning the United Nations' Goldstone report on Israeli human rights violations in Gaza.

Nonetheless, if the two sides could reach an agreement acceptable to them, we should not reject it out of hand.  On the contrary, we should be helping the two sides come to terms because only a united Palestinian polity can negotiate peace with Israel.

It is just plain silly for us to argue that Palestinian unification would "undermine negotiations with Israel" when the opposite is true.

No agreement negotiated between Israel and half the Palestinians will produce peace or security.  It would be sabotaged, almost immediately, by Hamas which will not tolerate being left out.

Nor will Palestinians in general accept as legitimate a deal agreed to between Binyamin Netanyahu and his preferred Palestinian partner while pretending that the other faction does not exist, let alone govern 1.5 million Palestinians.

The Obama administration needs to be encouraging efforts at unification, not sabotaging them.  Otherwise, we can expect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to remain either non-existent or ultimately futile.

The administration needs to stop following Netanyahu's lead.  We can devise our own policy, one that would break stalemate not perpetuate it.