President Trump is scheduled to meet today with the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas. Before discussing a renewal of the peace process, Grant Rumley argues, the U.S. must jettison the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring the Gaza Strip and focusing solely on the West Bank. Instead, he writes, the White House should pressure the PA to hold elections in both Gaza and the West Bank so that there will be a Palestinian leader with the authority to negotiate:
A renewed push for a new Palestinian political process will undoubtedly evoke memories of the George W. Bush administration, which insisted on holding elections in 2006 — with the support of Abbas—and inadvertently paved the way for a Hamas electoral victory that the U.S. then refused to recognize. But the Bush administration’s errors were tactical, not strategic. Not enough was done at the ground level to prevent Hamas’s triumph. . . .
[In the 2006] elections Hamas merely won a plurality, not a majority, of votes by gaining 44 percent to [Abbas’s Fatah party’s] 41 percent. Fatah entered the elections with deep divisions over who would be the party’s official candidates, and as such saw many of its disenfranchised members run as independents. . . . Crucial to the success of another round of elections is preventing similar disunity within Fatah.
[It will also be necessary] to place conditions on [candidates’] participation in the elections, . . . such as the renunciation of violence and adherence to the PLO’s prior agreements with Israel. Hamas officials will be posed with a dilemma: renounce violence and participate in the first free and fair elections in over a decade, or refuse and risk looking obstinate and out of touch with the Palestinian people. If the former, the U.S. should feel confident of a unified Fatah’s chances of defeating Hamas. If the latter, then the Palestinian street will see clearly which of the two major parties turned down the chances at democratic representation.
This plan is not without risks. Hamas could participate and win, Fatah could fracture at the last minute, or elections could take place only in the West Bank. And admittedly, the West Bank leadership’s incitement, endemic corruption, and payments to families of terrorists make it far from an ideal peace partner right now. Still, that should not prevent U.S. policy from thinking creatively about Gaza. A Palestinian leader needs both the willingness to sign an agreement and the ability to deliver on its implementation. That is impossible so long as a leader in the West Bank does not, at the very least, have a legitimate claim to Gaza.