August 10, 2014 by Darius
[Earlier this week, I attended a panel at the Brookings Institution on “The Gaza Crisis: No Way Out? Policy Options and Regional Implications,” featuring three Brookings experts on the Israel-Palestine conflict: Martin Indyk, who recently returned from serving as special US envoy to the latest round of failed negotiations; Khaled Elgindy, a founding board member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association and former advisor to the Palestinian leadership on negotiations with Israel; and Natan Sachs, who specializes in Israeli foreign policy, Israeli domestic politics, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yesterday I shared comments by Indyk and Sachs; today I will cover Elgindy’s comments.]
According to Elgindy, the ongoing US-Israeli assumption that a longer war leads to a weaker Hamas is invalid. Every war between Hamas and Israel, in 2008-2009, 2012, and now in 2014, has resulted in the marginalization of the Palestinian leader Israel and the US prefer to deal with, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is being ignored; Hamas is getting attention for the Palestinian cause. There is a perception among Palestinians that Hamas’s confrontation of Israel, no matter how painful, produces more concrete results than Abbas and his negotiations. For example, Hamas was able to secure the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails by capturing a single Israeli soldier. Abbas, on the other hand, failed to get Israel to follow through on its promises to release prisoners as part of the most recent round of negotiations.
Since 2006, the US-Israeli strategy of “divide and conquer,” dealing with Hamas and Fatah, Gaza and the West Bank, as two separate entities smacks more of imperialism, in Elgindy’s view, than real diplomacy. To conduct real diplomacy, it is necessary to work with the entire group, not the parts one finds to be less distasteful.
Elgindy also noted that the latest war has empowered Hamas within Palestine. Before the war, Hamas was the clear junior partner in the recent reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to create a unity government. Now, Hamas is at least an equal partner in the Palestinian unity government and possibly the dominant one.
Elgindy pointed out that Israel’s strategy of empowering Abbas at the expense of Hamas has proven a failure, as every time Hamas and Israel fight a war, Abbas is marginalized. Right now, Abbas is stuck in a vicious circle of weakness: he is weak because everyone perceives him as weak. Abbas had two major goals when he came to power. The first was to unify the Palestinian people politically and militarily. The second was to reach a deal with Israel. Both goals have been dashed.
According to Elgindy, the current US administration’s foreign policy is entirely focused on conflict resolution, unlike the Bush administration, which tended to ignore conflict resolution and focus on conflict management. As a result, the Obama administration has no real policy towards Hamas and Gaza since neither presents an opportunity for conflict resolution. Elgindy felt the pragmatic move would be to acknowledge that there won’t be any resolution to the Gaza problem in the near future and instead focus on managing the conflict while also working towards conflict resolution when the opportunities to do so are present. One notable way Elgindy felt the US could help manage the conflict was by setting up “ground rules,” including an end to Israel’s policy of disproportionate retaliation. Four hundred Palestinian children have been killed in the current war. If the US does not act, it risks losing its global humanity and credibility.
Elgindy also noted that although the US and Israel refuse to engage in negotiations with Hamas on the grounds that Hamas won’t recognize Israel, the current Israeli government includes politicians who themselves publicly disavow a two-state solution, but that doesn’t seem to disqualify their participation in negotiations.
[For yesterday’s post with Martin Indyk’s and Natan Sachs’s comments, see https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/thinking-aloud-the-gaza-crisis-no-way-out ]