As if the new Fatah-appointed Palestinian prime minister doesn’t have enough to worry about, he had to put up with President George W. Bush describing him as “a good fellow” last week.
Such a close embrace from an American President—especially this one—can be lethal in the Middle East.
“There are two constants in the Arab Street: hatred toward Israel and hatred toward the U.S.,” a Jordanian academic, Hassan Abu Hanieh, told The New York Times last week. “They don’t change, and anybody who co-operates with Israel and the U.S. is automatically hated.”
As the smoke clears from the rubble of Gaza, Mr. Bush’s grand vision of democratizing the Middle East—a vision upon which the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have rarely impinged—has been reduced to hollow rhetoric, quixotic assertions and de facto backing for one side in a tawdry civil war.
Take, for example, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, behind whom American support has now been flung. Mr. Fayyad headed a list that captured a woeful 2.4 percent of the votes in the 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power. For every Palestinian who voted for Mr. Fayyad’s slate, almost 20 voted for Hamas.
The diffident Mr. Fayyad may be a good fellow, but it is difficult to imagine a shakier foundation upon which to build a fledgling democracy.
Mr. Bush, undaunted, has said that the current aim of U.S. policy is to build up moderates “to the point where they can lead the Palestinians in a different direction, with a different hope.”
He ignores the fact that the Palestinian people have already democratically expressed their opinion about the direction in which they wish to travel. In electing Hamas, they have made crystal clear their disinclination to move along the routes mapped out by Mr. Bush.
It is often said of the Palestinians that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. That is true enough, up to a point. But it is also true of the current U.S. administration.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is now hailed, alongside Mr. Fayyad, as the great hope of the moderates and a potential peace partner for the U.S. and Israel.
Yet when Mr. Abbas was first elected back in 2005, the White House exerted no great pressure on Israel to enter meaningful peace negotiations. The consequent Palestinian frustration and disillusionment played as big a role as Fatah’s long-standing corruption in motivating voters to opt for Hamas 12 months later.
The 2006 election result was seen as a disaster for the West—not surprisingly, given that Hamas’ guiding charter and its leaders’ rhetoric is hard-line and anti-Semitic.
But some silver linings could have been discerned by those prepared to look for them.
Hamas’ participation in the elections hinted at a doctrinal shift by the organization since it meant its members were willing to take their seats in an institution—the Palestinian Legislative Council—that they had previously abjured. The P.L.C. was a product of the Oslo accords, which Hamas had deemed a sellout.