Given that the new Israeli government is an inflexible bunch of hardliners, the best area for the Obama administration to make progress in the Israel-Palestine conflict is for the United States to either encourage or accede to the creation of a Palestinian unity government.
Such a government would include both Fatah and Hamas. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia have tried in the past to secure a Fatah-Hamas accord. Under President Bush, the United States said it would not deal with any government that includes Hamas. In 2007, President Bush sabotaged a nascent Fatah-Hamas deal brokered by Saudi Arabia. So the question is: is the Obama administration showing any willingness to finesse the ban on Hamas?
For the Israelis, and the Israel lobby, any US-Hamas detente crosses a red line.
At Wednesday’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs committee, Secretary of State Clinton seemed to suggest an opening–though just a crack:
“We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel and agrees to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority. … We want to leave the door open.”
At the State Department press briefing on Thursday with spokesman Robert Wood, there was the following exchange, in which Wood seemed to indicate some degree of openness toward dealing with a government that might include Hamas. It’s lengthy, but read it anyway:
QUESTION: In her testimony today, the Secretary seemed to indicate that there would be some flexibility in dealing with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. She referred to the – to Lebanon’s government which includes Hezbollah, saying – and also the Northern Ireland situation.
What kind of flexibility are you thinking of? And the supplemental language can be read in many different ways, so maybe if you could just explain how flexible you plan to be when it comes to the national interests of the U.S.?
MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve been very clear, this is not an issue of being flexible. This is an issue of what Hamas needs to do. We’ve outlined those conditions for Hamas if it wants to be a partner for peace. It’s been very clear. We will not deal with a Hamas government. We – the Secretary has made that very clear and —