The tragedy of Washington’s narrow to the point of dysfunctional “debate” about the Middle East is that few American political players are willing to comment in a serious manner about the fact that George Bush’s mishandling of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has done more than money or guns could have to advance the cause of the Islamic fundamentalists who now control of the Gaza Strip.
Disengaged when engagement was called for, meddling when a hands-off approach would have been wiser, and always staggeringly ignorant — remember Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s shock when Hamas won the Palestinian elections early in 2006 — the Bush administration’s approach has been so disastrous that the International Crisis Group’s Robert Malley is actually being generous when he says: “Almost every decision the United States has made to interfere with Palestinian politics has boomeranged.”
“Almost”? Let’s be realistic here. Bush and Rice responded to the electoral victory of Hamas — as a political party that had expanded far beyond its fundamentalist base to draw significant support from Palestinians who simply wanted an end to the corruption of the rival and more secular Fatah group’s administration — by throwing U.S. support fully behind Fatah.
The point of the U.S. maneuvering was to isolate and destroy Hamas. According to a recent report in London’s Guardian newspaper, the United Nations Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto confirmed that the US pressured Mahmoud Abbas to refuse Hamas’ initial invitation to form a “national unity government.”
The strategy was a miserable failure. The Bush administration only strengthened the hand of militant factions within Hamas, which had argued that it would be necessary to flex military rather than electoral muscles.
This should not surprise anyone. In February, 2006, former President Jimmy Carter, who expertise with regard to the Middle East is respected almost everywhere but the United States, warned that, “My concern is that in order to try, on behalf of the United States and Israel, to punish Hamas, we’ll actually going to be punishing the Palestinian people who are already living in deprivation. And it’s going to turn the Palestinian people even more against the West and against Israel, against us and make Hamas seem to be, you know, their only friend. So this will strengthen Hamas and weaken the Palestinian people. I think it’s a counterproductive ploy to try to punish Hamas.”