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Another Opportunity for US Diplomacy?

The Palestinian Unity Government

by SAMER ASSAD

The United States’ exclusionist policy towards the Palestinian government since March 2006 failed to produce the administration’s goal of pushing the Hamas-led government out of power. Exactly one year after that government was sworn in, Hamas remains in power as a member of a unity government. U.S. foreign policy, as embodied in the Quartet’s three conditions-recognition of Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous agreements-exacerbated economic and political instability and a security breakdown in the Palestinian territory that threatened U.S.-relations in the Middle East and the interests of its longtime allies in the region-Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

U.S. officials justified the policy by stating that the administration would not deal with a government led by a group that did not respect and abide by the three conditions of the U.S.-backed Quartet. If this is the case, the new Palestinian government provides the U.S. with an opportunity to launch a real diplomatic effort on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

If looked at objectively, the administration will find that the eight-level platform of the new Palestinian government concurs with many of the principles that guide domestic and foreign U.S. policy, including its ill-fated three conditions.

On the political level, the Palestinian government states that it will "achieve national objectives through the resolutions of the PNC, the Articles of the Basic Law, and the resolutions of the Arab Summits, and shall respect the international resolutions and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)." To an objective reader, this indicates that Hamas, as part of a coalition government, has accepted and recognized Israel’s existence. In its 19th session in 1988, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) called for a two-state solution. Palestine would be established on the territory occupied by Israel in 1967-the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. By accepting to abide by the resolutions of the Arab League summits, the government and, by extension, Hamas has accepted the 2002 Saudi Peace Initiative which was adopted by the Arab League. The initiative offers Israel a peace deal that includes recognition of the Jewish state’s right to exist and secures its borders. Furthermore, it states that it will work with the agreements signed by the PLO-the third condition of the U.S.-backed Quartet-and with the international community to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

On the level of occupation, the Palestinian government recognizes the right of Palestinians to "defend themselves against Israeli aggression." Yet despite this natural right, the government will work on "consolidating calm and expanding it to a comprehensive reciprocal truce." The U.S. should acknowledge that every government should recognize its people’s right to self-defense and should work to guarantee that both sides commit to a truce. Past experience has shown that unless a truce is reciprocal, violence is sure to continue.

On the legal level, the Palestinian government promises to fulfill a long-standing U.S. desire, the empowerment of the judicial branch and the implementation of the Basic Law, which calls for the separation of the three branches of power.

On the economic level, the U.S. should be ready to engage the new government, which promises to respect the principles of a free economy, to protect the private sector and encourage investments-all treasured principles of the U.S. economy and legislation.

On the level of reform, the Palestinian government outlines its commitment to fight corruption and to reinforce the values of integrity and transparency, which are U.S. demands as well as long-held Palestinian demands.

On the international level, the Palestinian government says it will forge "sound and solid relations with various world countries and international institutions." Such a move should indicate to the U.S. that Hamas, as part of a coalition government, wants to find its place within the international community and not, as previously argued by some U.S. officials, prefers to remain at odds with the majority of nations.

U.S. foreign policy toward the new Palestinian government should be based on the same realization that forced the Palestinians into a unity government. Neither Hamas nor Fateh alone in power can deliver on Palestinian and international demands for reform and a peace agreement. Without Hamas’ approval, Fateh cannot present the Palestinian people with a final peace accord or guarantee that an "end to conflict" deal can be sustained. And without Fateh, Hamas will not have the financial backing to implement its program of domestic change and reform. Only a unity government can enforce law and order and guarantee that the truce achieved in Gaza be extend to the West Bank.

A U.S. foreign policy, which seizes the current opportunity presented in the form of a unity government, will be one that serves U.S. national interests in the Middle East as well as those of its allies.

SAMER ASSAD is the Executive Director of The Palestine Center.