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A Setback For Peace Prospects

By Lawrence J. Haas
U.S. News & World Report
October 17, 2017


Perhaps United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to congratulate him on the new unity deal between Abbas' Fatah Party and the terrorist group Hamas, simply didn't know what Hamas had said about it a day earlier.

The deal was important, said Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas' deputy political leader and its lead negotiator with Fatah, "so that we can all work against the Zionist enterprise, which seeks to wipe out and trample the rights of our people."

In other words, the deal better positions the Palestinian side to fight Israel than make peace with it. That al-Arouri mouthed such sentiments shouldn't surprise us, for he's well known for his terrorist exploits.

A former Hamas student leader at Hebron University who later became the head of its operations in the West Bank, al-Arouri served time in Israeli jails more than once before his release in March of 2010 as part of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that freed Gilad Shalit - the Israeli Defense Forces corporal whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. After that, Israel believes, al-Arouri planned a series of terrorist attacks that included the 2014 kidnapping and murder of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, 19; Naftali Fraenkel, 16; and Gil-ad Shaar, also 16.

Al-Arouri worked his terrorist magic from Turkey for several years, but Ankara forced him to leave after Israel and Turkey patched up their differences in 2016. He moved to Qatar, but was kicked out of there earlier this year. He then reportedly settled in Lebanon and has been spotted in Beirut.

At first blush, the Fatah-Hamas agreement, which the parties announced last Thursday in Cairo, seems a potentially important step on the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. That's because the division between these Palestinian factions - with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip - represented a clear obstacle to productive Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Now, with Hamas agreeing to allow the Palestinian Authority, which it ousted from Gaza in a violent coup in 2007, to once again run the Strip, Abbas and his team would seem well-positioned to fully represent the Palestinian side in future talks with Israel over statehood and peace.

But as al-Arouri's comments make clear - and as Guterres perhaps doesn't understand - the unity deal will further shrink the already slim chances for an Israeli-Palestinian resolution that will end the violence.

Under the deal, among other things, the Palestinian Authority will resume control of Gaza by Dec. 1 and over all crossings into the Strip by Jan. 11; the parties will meet again on Nov. 14 to discuss pending issues; and they'll meet in early December in Cairo to assess their progress.

What's more important for the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace, however, is what's not in the deal.

The deal, for instance, makes no mention of Hamas' armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, with its 25,000 members and its thousands of guns and rockets. Abbas has demanded that the Brigades hand over its weapons, but Hamas has refused. In conjunction with this deal, Hamas has reportedly agreed only that it will not conduct military operations unless the Palestinian Authority agrees with the decision. Nor does the deal mention Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel or its longstanding goal of destroying the Jewish state.

Thus, rather than unify the Palestinian side for serious peace talks with Israel, the deal sets back peace efforts by elevating the political standing of a terrorist group that's best known for killing Jews.

"We are hoping that we will be able to reach agreement with our brothers in Fatah and other Palestinian factions on a comprehensive national strategy to confront the Zionist enterprise," al-Arouri told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds. "We in Hamas do not want to engage in any political process with Israel. We don't want this and this is not our job. Our role is to pursue the resistance until the occupation is removed from our land. This is our position and it hasn't changed. With the enemy, there should be no political process. Instead, there should only be resistance."

Indeed, a day before Fatah and Hamas announced their deal, Israeli Major General Yoav Mordechai, a top IDF official, warned Hamas that Israel would respond forcefully unless the group stopped using lasers in an effort to blind IDF soldiers who were patrolling Israeli's border with Gaza.

That's a clear reminder, in case the UN's Guterres or anyone else needs one, that a deal that elevates Hamas is nothing to applaud.

Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of, most recently, Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.


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Related Categories: Middle East; Democracy & Governance; Israel

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