With the rule of Hamas in Gaza apparently unchallenged and its popularity growing in the West Bank,the new Obama administration faces an immediate policy choice support a Palestinian unity Government,as Egypt and the Palestinian President,Mahmoud Abbas,want,or continue to isolate Hamas and concentrate on building up the West Bank as a political alternative to radical Islam.
The issue is urgent because of the international effort to rebuild Gaza while trying to avoid letting Hamas take credit for the reconstruction. But the choice is more fundamental. It goes to the heart of what Obama can accomplish in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when the Palestinian side remains divided against itself.
In a series of calls to leaders of West Asia on Wednesday,Obama did not tip his hand,simply calling for a role for the Palestinian Authority in Gazas reconstruction. But many West Asia experts are eager to hear whether the Obama administration will try to create a credible,unified Palestinian Government that could negotiate and enforce a state-to-state relationship with Israel.
This is a moment of tough choices,with no dominant approach with obvious advantages, said Gidi Grinstein,president of a policy research group. Obama is being pushed to go for a Palestinian national unity Government,negotiations and a comprehensive settlement. But it would be a mistake to push the two-state solution toward a moment of truth when it is in a moment of weakness,and when there is both a civil war and a deep constitutional crisis on the Palestinian side.
Egypt,Saudi Arabia and even some in Israel favour a national unity Government that would enable the Palestinian authority to be seen as at least notionally in charge of the rebuilding in Gaza.