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Why did Obama broker a victory for Hamas?

With unusual candor, the Washington Post declares in its top headline that “Hamas’ tactics garner support” and that “Palestinians see path to victory through fighting.” This strengthening of Hamas is the entirely predictable consequence of the cease fire that the Obama administration worked to impose on Israel. Because Hamas waged war against Israel and the Israelis backed down, it is (to quote) the Post “the commonly held view in both territories (the West Bank and Gaza) that the Islamist militants of Hamas — who refuse to recognize Israel — defeated their enemy, and that they did it with weapons, not words.”

Since this consequence flows so naturally from he U.S. arranged cease fire, it is very difficult to believe that the U.S. did not intend it. But the Post does not even consider this possibility (its candor has limits). Instead the Post suggests that Israel wanted to strengthen Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, which looks increasingly irrelevant following Hamas’ victory. The notion is that Israel will find it easier to avoid making peace with Hamas.

However, the Israelis are fixated on Iran, not the PA. Stengthening Hamas strengthens Iran’s hand. So it is highly unlikely that Israel would have handed Hamas victory had the U.S. not applied pressure.

But why does Obama want to strengthen Hamas? Probably because he views it, not unreasonably, as the authentic and rising voice of Palestinian aspirations. This has long been the view of the American left — for example, Obama one-time adviser Robert Malley — and of European policy makers. In 2009, a very senior European diplomat told me (and some other bloggers) that Hamas, which he characterized as “moderate,” is the party with which Israel must ultimately settle. (The word “moderate” in this context has nothing to do with ideology; rather it means, precisely, the party with which Israel is expected to settle).

So through the cease fire Obama was, I think, trying to give history (as he sees it) a nudge. He did so by (1) pushing a used up force (the PA) off of the stage and (2) giving Hamas the boost it needs to treated by Israel as an entity with whom peace needs to be made.

Meanwhile, however, the Palestinians are more than ever convinced, as the Post says, that the “path to victory is through fighting.” And Iran now has an undefeated, confident ally on Israel’s southern border.

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