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Egypt, Hamas and Obama | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Egypt, Hamas and Obama

I don’t much like Hamas, nor do I like the Muslim Brotherhood, its parent organization. As readers of The Dreyfuss Report know, I consider both organizations to be reactionary, and I’m distressed by the fact that Palestinians—who are among the Arab world’s most sophisticated and educated populations—would support Hamas, whose leaders are Islamists and religious fundamentalists.

But Hamas as the Palestinian Al Qaeda? Spare me.

Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel says: “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of Al Qaeda.” That, of course, is utter nonsense. Whereas Al Qaeda is a nihilistic terrorist group whose philosophy is to strike at the United States and other Western targets that it considers enemies of its plan to create a global Islamic caliphate, Hamas is an Islamist organization, nationalist in outlook, whose focus is liberating Palestine from Zionism, and which has never conducted terrorist or military attacks against enemies other than Israel.

Egypt, which for years joined Israel in isolating and blockading Hamas’s stronghold in Gaza, will this week reopen the Egypt-Gaza border at Rafah crossing, allowing goods and people to travel freely back and forth. No doubt Egyptian security forces will regulate border traffic and will try to prevent weapons and ammunition from reaching Hamas, but the Egyptian decision will make it easier not only for Gaza to rebuild its shattered infrastructure but it will undoubtedly allow Hamas easier access to military supplies, too. Still, it’s a sign that Egypt’s anti-Mubarak revolt, though far from complete, has caused a seismic shift in Egyptian foreign policy. Not only is Egypt opening the door to Hamas—which was a key plank in the accord that allowed Hamas and Fatah, the traditional leader of the Palestine National Authority and the PLO, to strike an accord—but Egypt, too, is planning to exchange diplomatic envoys with Iran. (Until now, the United States, Israel and Egypt were virtually alone in not having diplomatic ties with Iran.)

Last week, President Obama called for stepped-up US aid to Egypt, but Cairo’s friendliness to Hamas has sparked sputtering outrage from pro-Israel militants in Congress. Both right-wing Republicans and pro-Israel Democrats are making noises about cutting off or reducing both economic and military aid to Egypt. Reports Josh Rogin of The Cable in the Washington Post:

The chairman of the House Appropriations state and foreign operations subcommittee, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Nita Lowey (N.Y.), spoke at a Monday afternoon panel at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington. Asked by The Cable if they supported Obama’s new aid initiative to Egypt, especially if the Muslim Brotherhood has a large presence in the government, Granger said: “The answer for me is no. I don’t approve of it.” The crowd erupted in applause....

Lowey said that while she supported the funding for Egypt, she urged the administration to seek the funds from multilateral organizations because finding money in the budget appropriated by Congress would be difficult in this year’s tough fiscal environment. “We are not going to appropriate this money to the Egyptian government,” Lowey said. “We are currently giving them billions of dollars in military aid, and we’re going to have to see about that as well.”

That’s bad news, and it may just be talk. The Obama administration will likely prevail in getting aid to Egypt, although the amounts that Obama has spoken of are token at best. (Saudi Arabia, which fears nationalism is Egypt, will likely pour billions of dollars into Egypt to sway its direction.)

Meanwhile, Obama has indicated deep distrust of Hamas. In his speech last week, Obama did not refer to Hamas as a “terrorist” group, but under pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and others, in his AIPAC speech the president did use the T-word. Then, yesterday, in his joint appearance with the British prime minister in London, Obama said:

“Let me just make one more comment about the prospects for a serious peace negotiation. The Israelis are properly concerned about the agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas has not renounced violence. Hamas is an organization that has thus far rejected the recognition of Israel as a legitimate state. It is very difficult for Israelis to sit across the table and negotiate with a party that is denying your right to exist, and has not renounced the right to send missiles and rockets into your territory. 

“So, as much as it’s important for the United States, as Israel’s closest friend and partner, to remind them of the urgency of achieving peace, I don’t want the Palestinians to forget that they have obligations as well. And they are going to have to resolve in a credible way the meaning of this agreement between Fatah and Hamas if we’re going to have any prospect for peace moving forward.”

Not a bad statement. Although various Hamas leaders have made statements indicating that they’re willing to live and let live in a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and though some have suggested that Hamas will accept an indefinite ceasefire with Israel, that’s really not good enough. Hamas needs to grow up and make the same transition that Yasser Arafat and the PLO made a generation ago, to full acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. And while Hamas need not give up its right to resist Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, it will have to renounce terrorist methods once and for all, including suicide bombers in pizza parlors and absurd rocket attacks against Israeli civilian targets. And the sooner, the better.

But that doesn’t mean that the United States shouldn’t open an official dialogue with Hamas. The sooner, the better. Maybe Egypt will help.

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