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APN on the Gaza-Hamas Challenge

The news just broke that a deal has been reached between Fatah and Hamas to create a Palestinian unity government that will serve for one year, until elections are held.

It is still too early to know if this deal will hold. There have been many reports of breakthroughs on this front that failed to materialize. Nevertheless, this is a good opportunity to take a look at the challenges posed by Hamas' rule of Gaza and at how those challenges might be addressed.

APN's perspective on this issue is best summarized in the Briefing Book that we delivered to Congressional offices this winter:

The Gaza-West Bank split poses real challenges to peace efforts. It is clear today - five years after Hamas, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, took control of Gaza - that efforts to pressure Hamas through boycotts and blockade have failed. They have neither ousted Hamas from power nor forced it to accept international conditions (known as the Quartet conditions). Instead, these policies contributed to creating a miserable humanitarian situation that has sparked harsh criticism of Israel throughout the world.

It is also clear today - 3 years after the 2008 Gaza war - that the status quo is not sustainable. Israel's refusal to significantly loosen the siege continues to translate into collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza. Renewed rocket attacks from Gaza threaten to escalate, once again, into broader conflict. And IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit remains a prisoner. Israel has learned through painful experience that military force alone cannot eliminate all threats or "solve" the problem of Gaza.

The U.S. should stand with Israel in demanding that Hamas end/prevent rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. It should also press Israel to finally end the siege on Gaza,while supporting reasonable Israeli measures to block the import of weapons in to the area. Most importantly, the U.S. must get the peace process back on track. In the absence of a credible effort to reach a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - one that takes into account the situation in Gaza - extremists will inevitably gain popular support.

The U.S. should recognize that a Palestinian government that represents all Palestinians, and with security and governance capacity in both the West Bank and Gaza, is vital to any future peace agreement. The U.S. should encourage Palestinian reconciliation, making clear that relations with any Palestinian government - including a unity government - will be based on the positions and actions of that government, not on the basis of whether Hamas is included in it.