Hamas and Fatah: The Wedding That Mattered

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The most important marriage of the week was in Palestine, not London. True, the odds of a lasting relationship between the internationally recognized leaders of the Palestinians, Fatah, and the internationally designated terrorist group, Hamas, aren’t great—it’s not clear whether the union will actually be consummated. But even a short fling has the potential to upturn Arab-Israeli affairs, shift U.S. interests in the Middle East and play a role in the 2012 election.

First, a Hamas-Fatah union would likely bring to an end the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. gives (pdf) to the Palestinians, and halt the training and equipment that the U.S. currently provides Palestinian police in Jordan. The U.S. has set three conditions for dealing with Hamas: recognition of Israel’s right to exist, renunciation of terrorism and violence, and the recognition of previous agreements like Oslo and the current security arrangements. Fatah might be able to make that money up elsewhere, but it would be a dramatic shift from an alliance with the U.S. to some other, less pro-Israel player.

Second, it increases the possibility of violence this summer in the run-up to the likely September recognition of Palestinian statehood by the UN General Assembly. Israel is bracing for a third intifada. Bibi Netanyahu, cornered politically at home and diplomatically abroad, will jump on any opportunity to demonstrate his country is under threat from Hamas.

Third, it is bad news for Obama any way you slice it. By increasing the chances of unrest, it increases the chances of gas prices staying high. It represents a major setback for his efforts to broker peace. And it means the near certain departure of the West’s favorite Palestinian, Salaam Fayyad, the competent technocrat who is responsible for much of the economic and political progress in the West Bank in recent years.