Cycle of Excuses

Steve Erlanger writes for The New York Times about the difficulties of forging a Palestinian unity government with which one could negotiate:

“This is a moment of very tough choices, with no dominant approach with obvious advantages,” said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, a policy research group in Tel Aviv. “Obama is being pushed to go for a Palestinian national unity government, negotiations and a comprehensive settlement. But it would be a mistake to push the two-state solution toward a moment of truth when it is in a moment of weakness, and when there is both a civil war and a deep constitutional crisis on the Palestinian side.”

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even some in Israel favor a national unity government that would enable the Palestinian Authority to be seen as at least notionally in charge of the rebuilding in Gaza. But even if the antipathies between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, could be overcome, a deal would almost certainly entail early elections that Fatah might very well lose.

The Gaza war has been bad for Fatah, and its popularity is plunging. Hamas is feeling victorious after surviving the Israeli pounding and is unlikely to allow Fatah to restore its presence, even for an election, in an angry Gaza.

This is a pretty neat trick. Israel launches a war in Gaza that’s allegedly supposed to weaken Hamas. Then Israel declares victory, even though the war has in fact strengthened Hamas and weakened Fatah. Then thanks to Fatah’s weakened position, it’s impossible to forge a unity government. But absent a unity government, it’s unreasonable for Israel to negotiate—Q.E.D.! It puts one in a mind of the time when it was impossible with Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority because it was run by a corrupt and incompetent Fatah. No negotiations until political reform! Then when the elections were held, it turned out that the opposition—Hamas—won. And then Israel couldn’t negotiate with Hamas!

Taken in isolation, each of these positions has a patina of reasonableness but the overall pattern is of a government that’s much more interested in finding reasons to forever-forestall negotiations—expanding settlements all the while—than in finding a route to peace.