Instant reactions to this week's stunning announcement of Hamas-Fatah reunification agreement ranges from the predictable: "Now Israel really longer has no partner with which to talk" to the equally predictable, "Israel just squandered its last best chance to bring peace and security." Both statements have some validity. Where does the truth lie?
Think about the inherent paradox of that last expression: How can truth lie? If it's the truth, I mean, it can't lie, can it?
Well, when we're talking about the Middle East, spring 2011, indeed it can. Even the truth can lie, because no one, and I mean no one, knows where this is going to end. Up is down and down is up. Old foes and ruthless dictators suddenly are seen as bastions of stability; democratic uprisings have morphed into religious revolutions. Or have they? Predicting these events is like predicting this year's NFL Draft in a league where there are currently no rules, only the stakes are much higher.
When none of the so-called experts saw the Abbas-Hamas smooch coming, and as James Besser iterates, no one did, why do we keep on going back to them for more disinformation? Where does the truth lie? At this point, only one thing seems certain, the PA just gave up a ton of American financial aid, which legally cannot be provided until Hamas renounces terror and recognizes Israel.
So what are the experts saying?
In this week's issue of Foreign Policy, Michael Oren proves conclusively that Israel is America's Ultimate Ally in this more-unstable-than-ever region, and Jeffrey Goldberg rebuts, stating that Israel's position in the US is now more precarious than ever. And that was written before the bombshell. Robert Satloff looks at the long view in lauding the durability of US - Israel ties as the region explodes around them. Dore Gold chimes in with Why Palestinian Unity Won't Lead to Peace and Jonathan Halevi, in The Fatah-Hamas Agreement: Analysis and Initial Consequences, gives some interesting analysis of how the new Egyptian regime is making use of the Palestinian card and how the unraveling of Syria is compelling Hamas to reorient itself toward Cairo. That Syrian unraveling only intensified with today's mass protests. Ha'aretz in today's editorial claims that Israel can redeem itself by recognizing a Palestinian state.
My take in all this hardly matters, but something tugging within me sees this as having positive potential, despite all the legitimate dangers. Hamas was pushed into these unity talks, we must recall, because of a popular uprising taking place in streets of Gaza. Hamas is far less popular than it was when the last elections occurred, and the PA has gotten its act together in a number of areas. There is far less corruption, which has led to economic progress and increased security cooperation with Israel, despite this week's mishap at Joseph's tomb. Maybe, given the right signals from Israel, this time the Palestinian people and the Egyptian people will vote for peace.
OK, go ahead and call me naïve. After all, I believed the President was legitimate even before he produced his birth certificate. Now, I hear, BTW, that Donald Trump's next tack will be to demand that Hawaii produce proof that it's really a state.
But right now, no matter what citizenship they have, the Palestinian and Egyptian people are all from the "Show Me" state of Missouri. I do believe that they are open to positive gestures, and Israel has to show them all reasons to move their democracies in the direction of regional reconciliation rather than perpetual confrontation.
Israelis need to be shown some things too. It will be interesting to see if the security situation will improve now along the Gazan border.
Prime Minister Netanyahu's job has just gotten harder. Suddenly his visit to the US in late May has taken on an intensified significance. (BTW Let me know if you are planning to attend AIPAC or are interested in going.) Face to face negotiations with the Palestinians now seem more unlikely than ever. But just like all the candidates over here pounding the pavement of Iowa and New Hampshire, the Israeli Prime Minister's got to campaign too, this time for Arab votes, and fill the airways of Ramallah and Cairo with something that is as hard to come by in that part of the world: hope. Otherwise, the Egyptians and Palestinians will vote accordingly.
Freedom is messy.
That's where the truth lies in the Middle East.
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