The reconciliation pact signed between Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday is a disaster. A disaster for Israelis, who for years have suffered rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and for their government, which waged a war on Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009 and has subsequently tried to weaken the Islamist movement's hold on the Strip via an unpopular blockade. And it's a disaster for the West, which has attempted to isolate Hamas with sanctions while giving billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.
But most of all, it is a disaster for the Palestinian people, who have seen their chances of achieving statehood suffer a serious blow.
You wouldn't know this from reading the upbeat reactions of those people outside the region who consider themselves friends of the Palestinian cause. "If the United States and the international community support this effort, they can help Palestinian democracy and establish the basis for a unified Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that can make a secure peace with Israel," former President Jimmy Carter wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday.
In that same paper on the same day, Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group suggested that, "Washington should at least refrain from reflexively viewing [a unity government] as a setback and seeking to undo it." Support for this agreement goes back years. In 2009, Peter Beinart wrote in Time magazine that Hamas was nothing less than "U.S. Diplomacy's Final Frontier."
Supporters of Hamas' inclusion in the Palestinian government base their case on the movement's victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections. The West refused to recognize the result because Hamas is a terrorist organization that has yet to accept the Quartet's preconditions for negotiations - namely, renouncing violence and recognizing Israel. None of this mattered to Hamas' useful idiots in the West, however, who have been echoing the organization's grievances since it fought its way to power in the Strip nearly four years ago.
In July 2007, a month after Hamas' violent Gaza coup, prominent unity government advocate Daniel Levy told the Daily Telegraph that, "For any process to have sustainability, legitimacy, and to guarantee security, it will have to be inclusive, not divisive, and to bring in Hamas over time." Levy called Hamas a "bulwark against al Qaeda."
That would surely be news to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who this week earned the dubious distinction of being the most prominent person to denounce Osama bin Laden's killing. "We condemn the assassination ... of an Arab holy warrior," Haniyeh said. "We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs."
Contrast Haniyeh's remorse to the reaction of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - the most honest man in Palestinian politics, deemed a "traitor" by Hamas, and whose remarkable state-building efforts in the West Bank could be destroyed by this unity agreement should he be replaced. He expressed his hope that bin Laden's death would "mark the beginning of the end of a very dark era." Given the ideological solidarity of Al-Qaida and Hamas, Haniyeh's response to the death of bin Laden ought to have come as no surprise.
Most perverse has been the attempt by the unity agreement's Western backers to conflate it with the democratic movements sweeping the Arab world. As soon as rumor of the agreement broke, the Guardian editorialized that, "The Arab spring has finally had an impact on the core issue of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Carter deemed the agreement the "Palestinian contribution to the "Arab awakening.'" Earlier this year, on the sidelines of the Al Jazeera Forum, Levy told an interviewer that, "Islamists are going to be part of this democratic tapestry. Deal with it. Put aside your prejudices."
Note that these are the very same people who consider Israel-supporting evangelical Christians apocalyptic extremists, yet applaud the empowerment and legitimization of actual, not imagined, religious fascists.
Hamas is everything that self-professed liberals should be "prejudiced" toward: obscurantist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, warlike and rejectionist. It calls for the death of homosexuals and bans dancing. Its charter beckons Muslims to hunt down Jews from "behind rocks and trees," claims that Muslims "have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad" and, in a prescient use of the rhetoric that has since united the radical Western left and the reactionary Islamic right, accused Jews of "Nazism." It picks fights with Israel that result in the needless deaths of Palestinian civilians. It could end the blockade in Gaza tomorrow if it wanted to, simply by laying down arms, renouncing terrorism and accepting Israel's right to exist - but no amount of Palestinian suffering will ever cause it to do so.
This unity deal breathes new life not only into Palestinian rejectionists but Israeli ones as well. A gift to the Israeli right, a unity government with Hamas will only strengthen the claims of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas that there is no Palestinian partner for peace and thus no reason for making further concessions. Palestinian unity is indeed a prerequisite for a two-state solution, but it's fair to ask at what price that unity should come. Israelis, the majority of whom have long supported a two-state solution, cannot be expected to make deals with an organization constitutionally bound to the genocide of Jews.
Ever since it won the 2006 election, Hamas' apologists in the West have advocated for the terrorist group's inclusion in a Palestinian government. They have finally achieved their goal. But it will be the people of the region - the Palestinians most of all - who will reap the disastrous consequences of the credulity these useful idiots have sown.
James Kirchick is a contributing editor to The New Republic.