The quickness with which much of the world (except Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and Russia, who nixed a U.S. sponsored Security Council resolution pledging eternal love to Mahmoud Abbas) has lined up with the Sunshine Boys, Ehud and George, in supporting the new and improved West Bank First policy brings to mind the desperate passengers on the Titanic looking for any way to escape their fate. I can imagine water rushing in one way and a deck steward shouting: “I have an idea–follow me!” as he tears off in the opposite direction with a few hearty souls in hot pursuit, only to find another wall of water pushing forward from the other direction to overwhelm him.
In this spirit, I welcome Aluf Benn’s expose of the true disaster that the Hamas coup poses for Israeli and U.S. policy towards the Palestinians and in the Mideast in general. Benn doesn’t prettify the situation as Olmert, Bush and Rice have been vainly trying to do. He tells it like is and for what it is:
As Hamas completed its violent takeover of Gaza last week, officials in the Israeli and American capitals realized they had a disaster on their hands. Both governments’ flawed policies toward the shattered Palestinian Authority had just been delivered a major blow…A militant Islamic group, whose record includes some of the worst terrorist attacks on Israelis, had just taken control of a small but contiguous territory of nearly 1.5 million inhabitants.
Strategically, the Gaza takeover marked a clear victory for Iran and its allies in the Arab world, and another setback for the pro-American, moderate Arab nations willing to compromise with Israel.
…From the Israeli perspective, less than a year after the Israeli Defense Forces failed to defeat Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon, the Hamas takeover in Gaza is a disaster. And for the Bush administration, preoccupied with the quagmire in Iraq, Gaza marks another failure in the Middle East. The White House forced Israel to allow Hamas’ participation in last year’s election, thus legitimizing Hamas’ political role, but the strategy backfired with Hamas’ decisive victory. Faced with the disappointing outcome, U.S. and Israeli officials sought to “isolate the extremists and strengthen the moderates” through a diplomatic and economic boycott of Hamas, and by pledging further support for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas…But…despite European support for this policy, Hamas withstood all pressure to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce terror and abide by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. At the same time, Israel’s willingness to help Abbas was at best half-hearted. It never went beyond token moves and empty gestures, usually citing security concerns, domestic political problems or Abbas’ weakness.
U.S. and Israeli leaders scrambled to spin the new reality in Gaza favorably. Instead of mourning Abbas’ clear defeat, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of “a new opportunity,” as if a good thing had happened.
Benn continues by noting the utter hypocrisy of the new pledges of undying admiration for Abbas from Bush and Olmert, who only days ago were bemoaning the former’s utter ineffectiveness as a leader or someone who could rein in Palestinian violence. The Salon contributor notes that both leaders have little choice but to hitch their wagon to this drey horse:
Their doubts and disappointment notwithstanding, both Bush and Olmert have an interest in casting Abbas and the situation in Gaza in a positive light. Olmert, in particular, is trying to recover from his unpopularity at home. His trip to Washington has been part of a comeback effort, following the devastating report of a Commission of Inquiry over his decision to launch the war in Lebanon last year and his conduct of it.
And a Bush suffering from a war rapidly going south in Iraq needs to present some alternate vision of the Hamas disaster so Democrats won’t be able to start calling the situation in Gaza, Iraq II (but with an Israeli, instead of U.S. occupation). Remember the old “Who lost China?” accusation levelled against the Democrats after the 1949 Communist Revolution? What about “Who lost Gaza?” Bush has to fear those sorts of questions being raised about his Mideast leadership.