Hani al-Masri
Al-Ayyam (Opinion)
August 1, 2012 - 12:00am

As is customary for American presidential candidates, Republican candidate Mitt Romney visited Israel. The aim of the visit was to show that he was the “closer friend” to Israel [compared to President Barack Obama].

He said that the central issue was to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, not to establish a Palestinian state. He said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, that Washington has a moral duty to stop the Iranian nuclear program and that the US’ No. 1 goal is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — thereby adopting Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on Iran. One of Romney’s aides went even further by saying that Romney supports a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran because the diplomatic and economic sanctions are useless and have not delayed Iran’s nuclear program. Romney also shared Israel’s fear of developments in neighboring countries such as Egypt and Syria.

He also opted not to meet with President  [Mahmoud] Abbas or take pictures with him to appear “more royal than the king” and to avoid upsetting Israel or Jewish voters.

During his visit, he held an election fundraiser in which wealthy Jews donated to his campaign. The price of attendance was up to $60,000 per person.

[Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton visited Israel before Romney, and Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon visited Israel before Clinton. Both Clinton and Donilon, along with Obama, have declared their absolute support for Israel. It was the first time the Obama administration has done so. Obama has signed an agreement with Israel that strengthens military and security cooperation between the two countries. It was a blatant misuse of the presidential office in an election campaign. The importance of this treaty is not limited to its financial value but lies in the fact that Israel will receive the kind of advanced weaponry that it has never before owned.

What Romney and Obama are doing has been done in every US presidential election, during which candidates compete to show which of them is more supportive and loyal to Israel. But what does not make sense is that the Palestinian prime minister agreed to meet Romney at where Romney was staying in Jerusalem. That meeting raised several questions:

Why didn’t [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad request that a meeting with Abbas be included in Romney’s agenda so that the Romney-Fayyad meeting not be interpreted as a play [on Palestinian divisions] and an attempt to show a rift between the Palestinian president and prime minister? Some US circles have been suggesting that the latter may be a substitute for the former, who appears to be no longer interested in peace — according to a statement by Obama during a meeting with American Jewish leaders — because he refused to resume the useless bilateral negotiations under American and Israeli conditions.

Why was it necessary for Fayyad to meet with Romney, who is on a visit dedicated to supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and their national rights, especially considering the visit’s context?

Why didn’t Fayyad insist on meeting with Romney at the Palestinian government headquarters in Ramallah, or in Jericho or Bethlehem? US presidential candidates usually visit the Palestinian territories and meet with Palestinian officials at their headquarters. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama visited the province’s headquarters and met with Abbas.

Romney’s failure to meet the Palestinian president was not caused by a scheduling conflict. Rather, Romney wanted to show that he is more loyal to Israel than Obama is. But why did Fayyad accept being used in that way?

Haven’t the past negative experiences of betting on US presidential elections and on a US president’s second term persuaded the Palestinians and Arabs once and for all to give up on believing in myths? [Some Palestinians and Arabs now want to] postpone going to the UN until after the US presidential elections, at least. But if Obama wins a second term he will not be better than during his first term. If he tries to take decisive action he will backpedal just as he did during his first term, during which he broke many of his promises.

The Haniyeh-Morsi meeting: Overcoming the differences

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is justified in feeling disillusioned with the outcome of the meeting between Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Prime Minister of the Hamas Government Ismail Haniyeh. Haniyeh is the prime minister of a government that was deposed, that was formed without the direction of the Palestinian president (as stipulated in the PA’s basic law) and that did not get the confidence of the Legislative Council — and neither did Salam Fayyad’s government.

The PA was disillusioned because the Haniyeh-Morsi meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo came amid the positive atmosphere that followed the Abbas-Morsi meeting, which was the first Palestinian-Egyptian presidential meeting and the second Palestinian-Arab presidential meeting (the first was the Palestinian-Tunisian presidential meeting). The Haniyeh-Morsi meeting was after Morsi declared his intention to complete intra-Palestinian reconciliation, lift the siege from the Gaza Strip and stand at the same distance from the two Palestinian sides.

Things have dramatically changed since Haniyeh was invited and received as a head of a legitimate government and after Morsi met with the Hamas delegation that was led by Khaled Meshaal. The intended signal was not well understood. It was as if the Gaza Strip is represented by Haniyeh and that Meshaal does not represent all of Hamas. That move is problematic and needs to be corrected, otherwise it will be an error by the Egyptian president at the beginning of his term.

Haniyeh could have been part of the Hamas delegation headed by Meshaal, in the same way as Mahmoud al-Zahar and other Hamas leaders in Gaza.

However, the outcome of the visit did not live up to the hopes and expectations that were clearly expressed by Haniyeh and those who accompanied him. They said that the visit would be the start of the battle for the Islamic caliphate, that it will result in the complete lifting of the Gaza blockade, that it will lead to the establishment of industrial zones and the opening of a commercial crossing between Egypt and Gaza, that an Egyptian representative will return to Gaza and that the “relationship between the two countries” will be examined. But the meeting ended up only easing the blockade by opening the Rafah border crossing for 12 hours a day instead of seven, helping Gaza with its electricity crisis, and the formation of a committee that would look into the political and legal consequences of opening a commercial crossing.

The Gaza blockade is a crime. Lifting the blockade is a legitimate demand that should not be predicated on anything else. It should not be conditioned on the completion of the intra-Palestinian reconciliation — even though it is very important — so that lifting the blockade does not end up exacerbating intra-Palestinian divisions, even if unintentionally.

If the intra-Palestinian divisions continue, then the Palestinians, the Arabs and the world will come to accept them. They will eventually recognize the legitimacy of both sides, because the reality on the ground is more important than desires and wishes. Therefore, it is the Palestinians themselves who are responsible for this division. It is they who so far have lacked the political will to end the division. But that does not absolve Egypt, the lead sponsor of the reconciliation file, from its responsibilities. Egypt should be careful not to do anything that would exacerbate the division, especially during Egypt’s new era that started on January 25, 2011—the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime—and the election of a new Egyptian president through the ballot box. Egyptian-Palestinian cooperation is supposed to be much better during this era than before.

If Morsi wants to minimize the damage of his meeting with Haniyeh he should clarify the matter by describing Haniyeh as “one of the Hamas leaders.” The matter can also be mended by inviting Fayyad [to Egypt]. That way, the Egyptian president would have kept the same distance from the various Palestinians parties and he would have avoided raising the expectations of Hamas leaders that Egypt will stand with Hamas against its Fatah rival, which would harm efforts to end the division, restore unity and achieve national reconciliation.


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