The Significance of Assad’s Visit to the UAE

On Friday, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad visited the United Arab Emirates; the U.S. State Department said that it was “profoundly disappointed” at Abu Dhabi’s “apparent attempt to legitimize” the bloodthirsty dictator. Yet as David Adesnik argues, “the Biden administration has sent consistent signals to Arab allies indicating its tacit approval of normalization with Damascus.” Adesnik warns that this attitude toward a “veteran war criminal” like Assad may embolden other enemies of the West, including Vladimir Putin.

During the first months of its tenure, the Biden administration opposed efforts to engage with the Assad regime, warning that the United States would fully enforce sanctions mandated by the [2019] Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. Last August, however, the White House publicly supported Syria’s inclusion in a four-way energy deal with Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon that directly violates the Caesar Act’s proscription of material support for the Assad regime.

Despite that pivot, the administration insists its policy has not changed. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior U.S. officials emphasize that Washington will neither lift sanctions nor pursue normalization with Damascus. Yet Blinken and others are careful not to say that the United States will actively oppose or interfere with such efforts.

In January, senior lawmakers from both parties sent a letter to the president stating their opposition to any “tacit approval of formal diplomatic engagement with the Syrian regime” by Washington’s Arab allies. The authors asserted there should be consequences for such engagement and called on Biden “to utilize the robust, mandatory deterrence mechanisms” in the Caesar Act “to maintain the Assad regime’s isolation.” The State Department’s tepid declaration of disappointment with the Emirates for hosting Assad shows the administration has not heeded lawmakers’ advice.

Read more at FDD

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy, United Arab Emirates

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority