On Israel-Palestine, no more of the same

Yossi Alpher:

President Obama and Mr. Mitchell must recognize that in the current regional strategic lineup, Syria is more relevant than Palestine. Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, declares himself ready to deal. A Syrian-Israeli process has a better chance of getting underway than a Palestinian-Israeli process. A successful Syrian-Israeli effort offers the United States, Israel and the moderate Arab states immediate benefits by reducing Iran’s penetration of the Levant, weakening its regional proxies and allies and rendering the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq — a major strategic event of the coming year — more likely to succeed. The mere fact of Israel-Syria negotiations would hurt Hamas, thereby strengthening Mr. Abbas.

Such a potential payoff justifies applying some pressure if necessary on Mr. Netanyahu. It justifies the risk of failure. And it justifies devoting more U.S. diplomatic energy to Damascus instead of Ramallah.

A second revised priority should address Hamas itself. It’s time to recognize that all the strategies mustered against the Hamas “emirate” in Gaza since the takeover of June 2007 have failed. The economic warfare policy invoked by Israel, the Quartet powers — the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations — and Egypt has punished 1.4 million Gazans, impoverished the moderate middle class and empowered and enriched Islamist smugglers, yet has failed to dislodge the Hamas regime. It is plainly counterproductive. Israel’s use of military force in Gaza, most recently a year ago, may have bought it some deterrent time but proved devastating for its international image. Egypt finally acknowledges that its mediation efforts with Hamas have failed. And the fiction that the P.L.O. will soon return to power in Gaza is just that — a fiction.

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