Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Important Questions and Wise Counsel from Robert Malley

Robert Malley is Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group and was special assistant to the president for Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998 to 2001.  Over the last several years, he has also co-authored with Hussein Agha (most notably in the New York Review of Books) numerous essays about the Middle East, and especially the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestinian conflicts.

His most recent essay, in the WaPo, places the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement (signed today in Cairo) within the framework of the current "Arab Spring."  He poses important questions and makes some very sage recommendations for US leaders:
For political and legal reasons, the Obama administration cannot embrace a unity government. But Washington should at least refrain from reflexively viewing such a body as a setback and seeking to undo it. Instead, it should keep an open mind and ask hard questions about what the deal says about the region:

Beyond discomfort at Cairo’s improved relations with Hamas, is it not in America’s interest to see an influential Egypt critical of Israel yet committed to its peace accord; whose relationship with the United States is strong but not servile, and whose stances are more consistent with domestic and regional opinion? Might this not weaken Iran, which benefited from using Mubarak’s regime as a foil, and whose regional weight will deflate with the rise of a credible Arab counter-model? How would attempts to torpedo the agreement affect relations with this new Egypt — and, more broadly, with a newly assertive Arab public? Is Washington better off if Hamas feels compelled to drift from Tehran and Damascus toward Cairo? If the Muslim Brotherhood plays a more central role in Egypt, how might it influence Hamas? How might U.S. engagement with the Brotherhood influence that influence?  

There are many implications to the unity deal. If we persist in viewing the new politics of the Middle East within the paradigm of old, we risk overlooking the most interesting ones.

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