A One-Sided House Hearing Against Palestinian Reconciliation

Zaid Jilani on a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing that failed to ask any of the tough questions at hand.

One year ago, House Republicans held a hearing on contraception—an issue which greatly impacts the lives of America’s women—and failed to invite a single woman to testify. Instead, all of the panelists were men from conservative religious organizations, which so upset House Democrats that they staged a walk out in protest. This morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa decided to apply the same approach to the Palestinians, holding a hearing titled “The Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects” without inviting a single Palestinian.

Instead, the witnesses consisted of two scholars—Matthew Levitt and David Makovsky—from a think-tank founded by AIPAC donors, the Washington Institute, and a right-wing policy advocate, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin. Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) started off the one-sided hearing by listing off a long set of grievances against the Palestinians, focusing on the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. The Congresswoman blasted “the destructive actions of the Palestinian Authority,” like its bid for upgraded U.N. status and incitement against Israel. What Ros-Lehtinen failed to mention was that not a single Israeli died in 2012 from any terror attack emanating from the PA-ruled West Bank.

Unlike the hearing about contraception, the Democrats did not demand diversity of thought in this event. Ranking Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch (FL) began his statement complaining about the PA’s United Nations effort and Hamas “raining down rockets on Israel,” failing to mention rapidly expanding settlements in the West Bank or the continued partial embargo against Gaza's 1.5 million people—let alone the heavy-handed suppression of non-violent protests in the West Bank.

In the narratives that both Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen painted, Israel has been a graceful partner for peace, and the ultimate threat to this peace would be reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah and the Hamas government in Gaza. “Our goal must be to prevent reconciliation,” Deutch concluded, saying that reconciliation would deny Israel the ability to have a “partner for peace” in the West Bank. What neither Deuth nor Ros-Lehtinen—nor any of the lawmakers at the hearing today—suggested was any alternative to talking to a unified Palestinian government. Has the U.S. refusal to talk to Hamas actually done anything to moderate the organization, or only to make it more suspicious and radical? Without unity between Hamas and Fatah, isn’t there effectively a 3-state solution, with Gaza being its own unviable sub-state? How is the U.S. refusal to engage with Hamas going to be more likely to bring about peace than its past refusal to talk to the Palestinian Liberation Organization? And, is it really reasonable for the U.S. to oppose talks with a unified Fatah-Hamas government if even the Israeli government has negotiated with Hamas with the facilitation of neighboring Egypt—not to mention other U.S. allies like Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey, who meet with and even support Hama? These questions were not broached, and it almost seemed as if the lawmakers were not even interested in the answers.

The witnesses served to only reinforce this anti-Palestinian viewpoint. “Hamas-Fatah reconciliation will accelerate conflict,” claimed Rubin, to no dissent from the other witnesses or the lawmakers. Ros-Lehtinen frequently brought up one of her own pet causes—ending the modest U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority: “Over the last decade, we have given billions—with a 'B'—of dollars to the PA knowing its endemic corruption,” she complained. On this line of questioning, the witnesses did not bite. The long-held view of supporters of the Israeli government in Washington has been that the Palestinian Authority has been mostly helpful to Israel in recent years due to its security cooperation with Netanyahu. “We cut off aid, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and there will be greater radicalization,” said Makovsky. Added Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), referring to the Palestinian Prime Minister in the West Bank: “Fayyad’s trustworthiness and competence have been critical."

Thus the debate seesawed between two poles—both of which opposed the Palestinian reconciliation the hearing was supposed to be discussing: Ros-Lehtinen’s desire to cut off at least some funding to the Palestinian Authority, and the rest of the committee’s warning that the Palestinian Authority was very helpful for accommodating every whim of the Israeli government.The end result was a hearing that was even more lopsided than the hearing about contraception last year. In that hearing, at least some lawmakers gave lip service to womens’ rights. This one would’ve more appropriately been titled: “What Can Palestinians Do To Better Accomodate Benjamin Netanyahu?”

As Open Zion’s own Ali Gharib said on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes this past weekend, “Congress is a totally, totally dysfunctional institution on foreign policy.” Instead of truly examining the prospects and results of Palestinian unity from all directions, the subcommittee basically held a strategy meeting for those who are determined to oppose it. This may put them at odds with the intentions of the newly-minted Secretary of State, John Kerry: at a private meeting in 2010—transcribed by diplomatic staff in a cable released by Wikileaks—Qatar's prime minister said that Hamas and Fatah must broker a “quick reconciliation” so that they can move forward to rebuild Gaza. According to the transcriber, Kerry “asserted that [Qatar's prime minister] was preaching to the converted.”