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Hamas Mourns OBL, Throwing Deal Into Doubt

This is the new peace partner?

Marc Tracy
May 02, 2011
Hamas in Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh in late 2009.(PPO via Getty Images)
Hamas in Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh in late 2009.(PPO via Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Israel took its first concrete step against the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal by withholding some $90 million in tax revenues that it ordinarily would transfer to the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority pending a guarantee that none of the money would end up in Hamas’ hands—that is, that Israel would not be funding a group that is pledged to its destruction. It was the first iteration of what was, and probably is going to continue to be, Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the P.A., which has been its ostensible partner for peace, following the deal the P.A. struck with Israel’s unabashed foe last week. While stopping short of disagreeing with the move, U.S. officials responded by asking Israel’s finance ministry to quickly meet with P.A. officials to get the matter cleared up.

This morning, meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ Gaza leadership, condemned the U.S. killing of Osama Bin Laden. “We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” he said. “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.” (The P.A. applauded the killing, as, of course, did Prime Minister Netanyahu.)

OK. On the one hand, al-Qaida is not the sticking point here; it was not disagreement over Bin Laden that held up the 2000 or 2008 peace talks, and Israel isn’t skeptical of reconciliation—that is, of a unified Palestinian sovereign that prominently includes Hamas—because Hamas refused to celebrate, and in fact condemned, the death of one of the world’s worst men.

But Hamas’ take on Bin Laden’s killing is nonetheless unbelievably disturbing. (It is also far from shocking: Both Hamas and al-Qaida are jihadist entities; longtime Bin Laden mentor Abdullah Azzam helped found Hamas. So, let’s dispense with the myth that this was merely a case of “bad P.R.” on Hamas’ part. This isn’t P.R.; this is policy. And that remains true even if Hamas was motivated in part to shore up its hardline flank. It’s very simple: Hamas is against the killing of Bin Laden.) You can make compromises—you can make peace—with those with whom you disagree, even vehemently. But you have to be living on the same planet. And people who unequivocally condemn the killing of Bin Laden are not living on the same planet as mainstream Israelis, and Israelis shouldn’t be required to move to that planet in order to make peace.

So, while the most immediately obvious contradiction is that between the Hamas and P.A.—the group that mourns the jihadist and the group that celebrates his death may have a tough time seeing eye-to-eye going forward—the most important one is that between Hamas and Israel, America, and the West. The reconciliation deal yet again proves a useful heightening of contradictions. This time, that heightening is a clear defeat for the forces that favor peace.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.