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Rewarding terrorism?

Half-baked plans for fast-tracking a Palestinian state would incentivize Hamas-style violence

Pro-Palestinian activists rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4, 2023. Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana

Rewarding terrorism?
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Almost 20 years ago, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Hamas then took over. After Hamas’s brutal and bloody attack on Oct. 7, many reacted that the Gaza withdrawal had failed. It appeased no one, and Hamas maintained its commitment to the elimination of Israel as a nation and a people. Instead, the pullout provided Hamas time to the develop its murderous military apparatus without check. The events of Oct. 7 were a stark lesson that handing over land and authority do not a safer world make. But apparently some may have missed that lesson.

Now the Biden administration is discussing longer-term Middle East plans—and among them, officials are considering a fast track to Palestinian statehood. President Biden recently said that there “needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.” How? When? It’s unclear, but The Washington Post reports that it may be sooner than many have thought.

“U.S. officials said the menu of actions under consideration include early U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state,” the Post reported. And it went on to note that recognition could be given even while “elements of political reform, security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians, normalization and reconstruction are being implemented.” In other words, statehood first, figure out how it will work, who will be in charge, and how to keep Israel secure later. This is apparently at an early stage of discussion. But it is startling to hear that some in the administration would be even toying with such an idea.

This is partly a story about politics. President Biden is walking a tightrope about Israel, caught between two sides of his own party.

On the one hand, the younger, progressive wing of the Democratic party base has decided to denounce Israel as an imperialist power and to support anything that can be characterized as Palestinian resistance. This showed up in all its startling extremism as American activists refused to condemn the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. College campuses were ground zero as the progressive activist wing sometimes even celebrated the “exhilarating” experience of watching Hamas resist colonialism—by murdering, kidnapping, and raping Israeli civilians.

Meanwhile, an older and more moderate segment of the Democratic party has had a longstanding support for Israel as America’s freest, most democratic, most rights-protecting ally in the Middle East. President Biden found himself caught between these factions repeatedly since the Hamas attack. The president’s approach so far has been to defend Israel’s right to defend itself while also calling for Israel to exercise restraint in its military actions—a little bit for each side. (Though the fact that Biden gets credit for giving mere assent to Israel’s right to defend itself suggests just how far the anti-Israel ideologues have gone.)

If fast-track statehood happened, it wouldn’t be hard for whatever remnants of Hamas survived the fighting in Gaza to claim credit for creating the conditions for statehood.

But if the administration adds Palestinian statehood to the agenda, it repositions itself. It can claim to be a champion of Palestinian rights against the so-called colonialism of the Israeli government. One wonders if at least part of the reason for discussing a fast-track to recognition is that it allows the Biden administration to take the credit for the easy stuff without taking responsibility for the hard stuff. The administration could claim credit among progressives for empowering Palestinians against colonialism. But it would avoid taking responsibility for figuring out how to keep any Palestinian state from falling into the hands of radical Islamist elements who may well try to imitate Hamas’s example in Gaza.

At a deeper level, this is a story about human nature. Scripture teaches that human beings suffer from the fundamental problem of sin. Christian observers of international affairs can make a wise and realistic assessment because we have a category for recognizing that sin and evil are in the world. And we recognize that people respond to incentives.

When it comes to the administration’s willingness to consider Palestinian statehood at the present time and under the present conditions, one might have a whole host of critiques. But for the present, one simple problem stands out: this sure looks like it’s rewarding evil. If Hamas attacks Israel, and America takes the position that Israel must hurry up with Palestinian statehood to calm the situation down, this looks an awful lot like Hamas succeeded in advancing the Palestinian cause.

President Biden has already insisted that statehood would not reward Hamas, but just the Palestinian people. But if fast-track statehood happened, it wouldn’t be hard for whatever remnants of Hamas survived the fighting in Gaza to claim credit for creating the conditions for statehood. Evil rewarded can only be expected to grow.

Lael Weinberger

Lael Weinberger is a lawyer and historian. He is a fellow of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School.

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