Commentary: Palestinian Authority faces dilemma in bin Laden's death

The Miami HeraldMay 10, 2011 

Life can throw the most interesting ironies and dilemmas in our path. Consider the events of the last few days: When President Obama announced that U.S. forces had found and killed Osama bin Laden, the reaction around the globe was almost uniformly one of rejoicing. Congratulations poured in from world capitals as people on all continents said the killing had struck a blow for peace.

Not everyone agreed, of course; that was to be expected. But the really interesting moment came when the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas broke with the prevailing sentiment, praising bin Laden as a “holy warrior” and condemning the United States for killing him. The reason this is so fascinating is that the fervently anti-American and pro-bin Laden statement from Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas in Gaza, came exquisitely timed to put Washington and Western nations on the spot.

The United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. Obama just declared, and the world agreed with him, that terrorists must be brought to justice, whatever it takes. But only a few days ago, Hamas signed a unity agreement with its rival Fatah, which leads the Palestinian Authority. The PA receives $600 million a year from Washington on top of hundreds of millions more from Europe and elsewhere. What are the Palestinians’ benefactors to do now?

Some will rush to draw a distinction between Hamas and other terrorist groups because when Hamas has murdered civilians, as it has by the hundreds, it aims to kill Israelis. But following this path would expose hypocrisy in its vilest form.

The United States and its allies should take a close look at the Hamas charter. They must decide if they want to fund a Palestinian government that includes an organization whose guiding document repeatedly calls not just for the destruction of Israel but says “Fight the Jews, and kill them.”

This kind of ideology should have been forever buried in 1945.

If simple morality doesn’t make the check-writers catch their breath, then the law should. The American statute governing aid to the PA requires, among other things, that PA government members explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has accepted that a Palestinian State should be created and has urged Palestinians to return to negotiations. Palestinians have decided to forego talks and go straight to the U.N. for recognition. But negotiations are the only way to a real solution.

The ultimate objective of aid to Palestinians is to help bring a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is not what Hamas wants. In recent days, Hamas leaders have repeated that they reject peace with Israel. They reject its existence. Occasionally, they tell visitors they are willing to accept other borders, but their followers know, and their charter spells out, their final objective.

The just-signed deal between Hamas and its rival Fatah could still fall apart. The two groups are sharply at odds and have only come together because they — particularly Hamas — felt they had no choice. Hamas’ patron in Syria is busy slaughtering his own people. Support for Hamas could falter. Fatah and Hamas still hate each other and can hardly agree on vital issues.

Washington called Haniyeh’s praise of bin Laden “outrageous,” but the State Department has sent mixed signals about how the government will respond to the forthcoming Palestinian government.

It is considering waiting to see how it behaves. But a more-effective response would respect U.S. law and insist that the new Palestinian government strictly and explicitly abide by the demands listed by the international community years ago.

Palestinians have a right to make whatever deals they wish. But the United States and Europe cannot fund a government whose members aim to destroy another country and kill its inhabitants. They must require that in order to continue receiving aid, the next Palestinian government, including every single cabinet member, individually declare its commitment to the principles enumerated by the Quartet for Peace: Recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce terrorism and abide by existing agreements. In addition, they must demand that the PA allow only one military force, not a separate Hamas militia. Otherwise, extremists will end up taking over all Palestinian territories.

If all Palestinian groups in the government agree to these conditions, the dilemma will have been resolved. After bin Laden’s death, this would score yet another major blow for peace and against terrorism.

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