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Opinion

President Obama shirks his campaign pledge not to deal with Hamas

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Philip Klein,Barack Obama,Israel,Middle East,Palestinians,Hamas

During the 2008 presidential campaign, as it became clear that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee, he granted an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in an attempt to establish pro-Israel bona fides. A Hamas official had recently endorsed Obama's presidential candidacy and when Goldberg asked him about it, Obama responded emphatically:

My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and I’ve repeatedly condemned them. I’ve repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements.

In the six years since Obama made that statement, Hamas hasn't changed its positions — it refuses to renounce terrorism or its charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Nonetheless, Obama has changed his position on Hamas by deciding to deal with them after all.

On Monday, Palestinians announced the formation of a "unity" government that includes Hamas, which is on the U.S. State Department list of designated terrorist groups. Instead of scolding Palestinians for the deal, which would put another fork in the corpse of the peace process, the State Department said it expected to work with the government.

The argument offered by department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was that, it was "an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas." But any real unity government that's being backed by Hamas will have to be heavily influenced by the terrorist group, which controls Gaza, no matter the figureheads that are put in place.

More disturbingly, the Washington Post has reported that, the agreement, "appears to skirt, barely, U.S. prohibitions on aid to a Palestinian government that has 'undue' Hamas presence or influence. The Obama administration had worked behind the scenes to suggest terms for the new coalition government that would not trigger the U.S. ban, reasoning that the money helps preserve American leverage."

So in other words, according to this report, the Obama administration actively worked with the Palestinians to help them mask the fact that they were bringing a terrorist group into the government so that they could get around U.S. law aimed at preventing the flow of money to terrorists.

It's worth adding a bit of context to this. Senior officials in the administration have repeatedly tried to blame Israel for the failure of the peace talks, because the government authorized Jewish housing construction. According to the New York Times, the officials quoted criticizing Israel, "might as well have been President Obama himself, a senior administration official said, since the White House cleared the interview and the critical remarks faithfully reflect the president's own views."

So in other words, to Obama, the prospect of Jews building homes is a fatal blow to Middle East peace; but when Palestinians reach a deal with a designated terrorist group, it is not only greeted with a shrug, but his administration actively works with the Palestinians to help them skirt U.S. law.

As it turns out, maybe Obama didn't mean what he said about Hamas in 2008.

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