Analysis |

A New U.S. Approach to Hamas Could Be in the Making

A 2018 report co-written by a Biden official makes the case for Washington to encourage Palestinian unity in order to break the years-long diplomatic stalemate

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks before a ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas was to go into effect, at the White House in Washington, U.S., last week.Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/ REUTERS

According to a 2018 report by the Center for a New American Security, written in conjunction with the Brookings Institution, the United States should “pursue the political and physical reintegration of Gaza and the West Bank, in a manner that promotes a two-state solution and avoids the permanent separation of the two territories.” It should also work to “stabilize Gaza, address the dire humanitarian and economic conditions, and prevent, or if necessary shorten, any future conflicts between Hamas and Israel.”

It is one of thousands of documents and proposals that have been published on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, but it turns out that this study may well become the basis for an effort by U.S. President Joe Biden to deal with the conflict.

The study was authored by four researchers with a lot of experience in the politics of the Middle East, among them Biden associate Hady Amr, who was also a member of the former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s team when he was directing the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Few Israelis are familiar with Amr, who is today deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs as well as the special U.S. envoy dealing with the conflict between Israel and Hamas. His associates at Brookings say he is not motivated by ideology but rather finding a creative solution to the conflict.

U.S. Deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs Hady AmrCredit: Hady Amr's Twitter account

Amr’s critics, primarily from the American Jewish right, say he has a history of hostility to Israel, citing quotes of his from 2002, in which he wrote that he “was inspired by the Palestinian intifada.” One critical article quoted him as saying, after the assassination of Salah Shahada, the head of Hamas’ Iz al-Din al-Qaddam military wing: “I have news for every Israeli. Arabs now have televisions, and they will never, never forget what the Israeli people, the Israeli military and Israeli democracy have done to Palestinian children. And there will be thousands who will seek to avenge these brutal murders of innocents.”

In the eyes of these critics, Amr is an example of Biden’s “anti-Israel” appointments, which include Maher Bitar, an American of Palestinian origin, who was appointed senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council. These appointments, the critics say, indicate where Biden is headed and point to Israel’s loss of influence in the White House.

But instead of demonstrating antagonism toward Biden and shooting poison barbs at his appointments, it would behoove people to read the study written by Amr and his colleagues. This is because some of its recommendations are already being applied, like Biden’s decision to restore funding to UNRWA and release financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. What’s important about this study is that it doesn’t envision a full and final peace between the two sides by negotiating with the PA, but advises encouraging a merger between the West Bank and Gaza, and between Hamas and the PLO, to bring about a long-term cease-fire and prevent another conflict between Hamas and Israel.

The study’s authors believe that the United States erred when it neglected Gaza and Hamas to focus its diplomatic efforts on the PA. They believe that Washington must encourage intra-Palestinian reconciliation, boost the presence of American aid organizations, establish ties with people in Gaza, demand that Israel remove the blockade on Gaza and involve Gaza (meaning Hamas) in diplomatic decision-making.

The study doesn’t ignore the contradictions and risks inherent in these recommendations. Integrating the West Bank and Gaza, it says, “could partially legitimize Hamas or, worse, give it an opening to gain power in, or even seize control of, the West Bank. Reintegration could also lead to a model like that of Lebanese Hezbollah, in which Hamas remains a heavily armed militia, free from the burdens of civilian governance but wielding veto power in government.” The study has no magic solutions for countering these risks, but nevertheless its authors believe the administration should adopt the integration policy because of the chance it could lead to a long period of quiet and improve Gaza’s economic situation.

There is no move that threatens Israel more than a merger of Fatah and Hamas, and of the West Bank and Gaza because the strategy of separating them is aimed at thwarting the two-state solution. In that vein, Israel has been willing to maintain a sort of economic normalization, allow the transfer of goods and increase the supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip – in short, to preserve Hamas as a ruling force – provided there is no two-state solution.

The question is how Israel will deal with the U.S. administration if the latter decides to change its view of Hamas, increase aid to Gaza, directly or through Egypt, and perhaps start holding meetings with “moderate elements in the Gaza Strip.” After Donald Trump gave the Taliban a kosher certificate, and Biden removed the Houthis from the list of terrorist organizations, it may now be Hamas’ turn to get a phone call from the White House.

Comments