Two important events for the Middle East took place within days of each other. On April 27, Fatah and Hamas signed a unity agreement that will lead to the formation of a government of technocrats. Eventually, if everything goes right, it will lead to the reemergence of a united Palestinian polity with Gaza and the West Bank once more being under one authority rather than under two. Almost immediately Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu denounced the agreement and said it made the Palestinian Authority unfit as a negotiating partner. His former top foreign policy advisor Dore Gold had similar comments. This exposes, as if anyone needed further exposure, the disinterest that Netanyahu and the Israeli political leadership in the present coalition have in negotiations and peace.
Such an agreement can lead to two likely outcomes: either Fatah eventually converts Hamas and the way is open for peace negotiations with Israel. Or Hamas converts Fatah and the possibility of peace recedes until decades from now Hamas realizes that it cannot destroy Israel. Which is the more likely outcome may not be clear for years. After all, if we use an Israeli analogy, has the cohabitation made Labor more like the Likud or vice versa? The answer has been that there has been movement in both directions. The Likud was split, creating Kadima, a more flexible and pragmatic party. But Labor was also split creating Atzmaut, a smaller and more hawkish party to serve as Ehud Barak's personal vehicle, possibly for a trip eventually into the leadership of the Likud. It may take years before it is established which camp, the Left or the Right, was the winner in the co-habitation sweepstakes. It will take even longer with Palestinian unity.
But this may help to set up a Middle East peace initiative in Obama's second term, if he has one.
Ossama Bin Laden's death in combat ensures three short-term effects. First, it raises the profile of the Navy Seals and gives them a good slice of the elite forces budget for the military. Second, it makes Obama's job of withdrawing from Afghanistan easier as it eliminates partially a good deal of the rationale for remaining there. Third, it visibly improves Obama's chances of reelection. Timing wise, if this had occurred a week before the election instead of 18 months before it, it would have been much better for Obama. People tend to have short memories when it comes to voting. But Obama has demonstrated that he is capable of decisive action, of keeping a secret, and of waiting until the proper moment to strike. I'm sure that Obama's reelection manager will have a few ads featuring Obama and the announcement of his death to show the electorate in the fall of 2012.