Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Obama Meets Abbas: And Shows He Understands Neither Hamas Nor Israel, Neither the Middle East Nor Islamism

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By Barry Rubin

President Barack Obama has announced an additional $400 million in aid for housing, school construction and business development in Gaza and West Bank in his meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Calling the status quo in Gaza unsustainable, Obama said he was talking with Europeans, Egypt, Israel, and the PA on how to have a better approach that takes into account the security concerns of Israel and the needs of people in Gaza.

He also urged the need to rush ahead on a peace process which has no chance of success, calling this situation, too, unsustainable. It is in fact Obama's policy which is unsustainable.

Obama said, "As part of the United Nations Security Council, we were very clear in condemning the acts that led to this crisis and have called for a full investigation." What does this mean? Which acts? The acts of provocation and attacks on Israeli soldiers or is he blaming Israel? Who knows? The president of the United States is not supposed to be inscrutable.

Moreover, the president of the United States shouldn't hide behind the UN. What is his policy? Where is the leadership?

And then he repeated something he has done before--claimed that Israelis backed his policy-- which is blatantly untrue as polls show. ""What we also know is that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. I think increasingly you're seeing debates within Israel, recognizing the problems with the status quo." The truth is that Obama understands nothing about Israel. He should leave the choice of Israel's government to its people and the setting of policies to its government.

Aside from all this, Obama displays no strategic sense. He should make clear that the United States does not want an Iranian client, a revolutionary jihadists Taliban-like regime on the Mediterranean Sea. It should be the goal of U.S. policy to avoid this. Instead he deals with this as a “humanitarian” issue and makes no effort to get across what should be the main point.

And so Obama said:

"We agree that Israelis have the right to prevent arms from entering into Gaza that can be used to launch attacks into Israeli territory. But we also think that it is important for us to explore new mechanisms so that we can have goods and services, and economic development, and the ability of people to start their own businesses, and to grow the economy and provide opportunity within Gaza."

He and his advisors have no comprehension of what makes Hamas and its leaders tick. So he wants a prosperous Gaza Strip under Hamas leadership? Money will be pouring in, jobs will be created. Of course, only until Hamas decides to start the next war. What does he envision is going to happen under his strategy? That the lean and hungry leaders of Hamas will sell out to the infidels and open a chain of fast-food restaurants?

Nor does he have the slightest clue about Palestinian politics. Just as he misstates Israeli thinking, Obama has no conception that Fatah is full of radicals and is in competition with Hamas to prove itself more militant. He keeps repeating the idea that the Palestinians are suffering so much that they are eager for a deal, the same error made--with more justification to be sure--by the Clinton Administration in 2000. And as long as the Palestinian Authority has no control over almost half the people it purports to rule, and Hamas uses its power to sabotage any agreement or stability, how could there possibly be progress on peace?

Remember the U.S. policy up until now has been to help the Palestinian Authority to become more stable and prosperous so that Gazans would contrast their situation with it and say, "Moderation is certainly better than extremism!" Now they and many others will say, "Extremism is certainly better than moderation! You still get Western support, they protect you from being overthrown, and you don't have to become more moderate or sell out at all!"

Who's really making the Middle East unsustainable? Barack Obama is with a policy of weakening your friends and helping your enemies get stronger.

Note that Obama did not mention the conditions for easing the blockade--that Hamas abandon terrorism and accept Israel's existence--nor did he say that anything the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is doing is "unsustainable." Only Western and Israeli policy are said to be unsustainable. In effect, Obama is saying that the policies of Hamas, Iran, Hizballah, and Syria, among others, are infinitely sustainable, especially because of his reluctance to do things to make them unsustainable.

And thus in Middle East terms, he's saying: Your intransigence has won. We couldn't move you so our policy has failed. We must give in.

Let's be clear here. The assessment in this article is a harsh one but the policy of this administration is a disastrous one. To condemn it has nothing to do with party or ideology. Unfortuntely, though, this administration has taken leave of any sense of national interests' policy, has substituted Feelgoodpolitik for Realpolitik.

Obama may honestly believe that pumping money into specific projects in Gaza like houses, schools, and businesses is not a subsidy for Hamas. But of course that is what it will be. Anyone should be able to understand this:

--Schools. That means classrooms were Hamas can indoctrinate children into thinking that they should grow up to be terrorists, Israel must be wiped off the map, peace with Israel is unacceptable, the Jews must be murdered, America is evil and its influence should be driven out of the region, and all existing Arab states except for Syria should be overthrown.

If I were a cartoonist I'd draw a picture of a classroom. On the wall is a plaque saying: Paid for by the American people. The teacher is telling the kiddies: "And so you must all grow up to be holy warriors and wipe out the Zionist pigs and imperialist dogs." That is no exaggeration.

----Construction. Yes it would be nice if Gazans had jobs and nicer places to live. But nobody in a Palestinian refugee camp (except perhaps if they bribe someone) will get a new apartment since they must continue to suffer until they can presumably return in triumph to take over housing recently vacated by murdered Israelis. Apartments will be given first by the Hamas government to its supporters and thus used to recruit people and bind them to the movement. Some of the concrete and other equipment will be siphoned off for building bunkers or rockets to fire at Israel.

If I were a cartoonist I'd draw a picture of an apartment building with a sign saying, "Gift of the American people" in front of it and with a Hamas official saying to a man: "And if you become a suicide bomber you not only get to go to heaven but your family will receive a two-bedroom apartment with a nice view of the beach." That, too, is no exaggeration.

Remember the United States has no one on the ground in the Gaza Strip to supervise these projects and prevent Hamas from stealing money, materials, and products. I'd prefer all the money be given for aid to the West Bank than have any funds go to the Gaza Strip.

And what happens when Hamas attacks Israel again? I can see the media coverage now, complaining that Israel is damaging all those beautiful U.S.-financed buildings, which are being used as rocket-launching sites and bunkers by Hamas.

Can’t the U.S. government figure this stuff out for itself? The president is not the head of a foundation providing grants to community organizers. So the money will be taken by Hamas and other Islamists as “blood money” to pay compensation for the blockade or as tribute from a frightened America. It will win no friends and do no good strategically or politically.

Here's the bottom line:

The president of the United States has just announced that his country must give in to the defiance of a dictatorship with about 1.2 million people. The chief executive of the greatest power in the world (even if he doesn't think that's true) is changing his policy because a few dozen radical Islamists picked up iron bars, hit Israeli soldiers, and forced a confrontation. How do you think that lesson will be absorbed by others in the world, especiallyAmerica's enemies, and what do you think that will motivate them to do?

And so now President Obama is going to subsidize and stabilize a genocidal-intentioned, antisemitic, terrorist regime allied to Iran for no material gain to U.S. interests.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (PalgraveMacmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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