Divide and conquer

Senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed (L), head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh (C) and senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouq hold their hands after announcing a reconciliation agreement in Gaza City, April 23, 2014 (REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)

This week’s announcement of a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas set off alarm bells in Washington and Tel Aviv before the ink was even dry on the agreement.

Israel’s reaction is understandable – Israeli strength flows from Palestinian weakness and in recent years, nothing has symbolized this weakness more than the existence of dueling political entities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Tel Aviv’s decision to halt its participation in peace talks is a predictable response, although it gives the Palestinians considerable credit for their reconciliation. Such agreements have been announced before, and the latest must be followed up by the actual formation of a national unity government.

As for the peace talks, the term itself has become objectionable. Two decades after the Oslo Accords, hopes for a durable, fair peace have faded further and further into the distance as the territory controlled by Palestinians shrinks and shrinks.

But Washington’s reaction is truly disappointing. The division of the Palestinian political scene into two feuding cantons was unnatural; ending this divide would be a return to a more natural state of affairs. If the U.S. cuts off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the presence of Hamas in the government, it will only highlight the glaring contradiction with the situation in Lebanon. There, Hezbollah has been participating in the executive branch for nearly a decade, but its anti-Israel stance hasn’t led to a cutoff of American assistance to the government in Beirut.

If Washington ever wants to be seen as honest peace broker, it should avoid adopting the exact same stance as the country whose modus operandi has been one of divide and conquer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 25, 2014, on page 7.




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