A Palestinian national unity government could make sacrifices that a partial government never could. Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, in Israeli jail since 2002, could potentially become a bridge between the Palestinian parties. No one is describing such an outcome as likely. But certainly Fatah without Hamas can’t make a meaningful deal.
So the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is a good thing for the possibility of meaningful peace. You can’t make peace with half a people: You need all of them represented at the table. If the Palestinians can present a united front and willingness to negotiate, Israelis may well move toward political reconciliation over the possibility of a deal. The prospects for that may look bleak at the moment, but in the past, the Israeli public has been able to elect governments with a mandate to negotiate whenever the Palestinians managed to look like serious partners. We probably have no more than a decade to go in which a two-state solution remains possible. Palestinian reconciliation is a precondition for peace. Here’s hoping it sticks.
Jonathan Schanzer disagrees:
After the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, brought an end to the intifada. Since then, to Abbas’ full credit, Fatah has maintained a course of nonviolence, and security cooperation with Israel has reached at an all-time high. To his discredit, however, incitement has continued, including the glorification of terrorists in the media. Fatah, in other words, has been wrestling with its demons. In fact, a controversy erupted recently when the Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud al-Habbash, came under fire by Fatah activists for condemning a terrorist attack against Israelis.
Yesterday’s reconciliation deal appears to have interrupted, or even ended, this important tug-of-war. Hamas’ embrace of terrorism is full-throated, and so is its rejection of Israel. So, while Fatah’s embrace of Hamas may lead to national unity, it bodes poorly for peace. It also portends poorly for the Palestinian nationalist movement as it takes its first steps into what appears to be a post-Oslo world.
Paul Pillar objects to Israel “invoking a label or slogan as if it were an acceptable substitute for policy”:
The Israeli prime minister says Hamas is “dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Actually, Hamas leaders have repeatedly made clear a much different posture, one that involves indefinite peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they officially term it only a hudna or truce. It would be more accurate to say that Israel is dedicated to the destruction of Hamas, an objective that Israel has demonstrated with not just its words but its deeds, including prolonged collective punishment of the population of the Gaza Strip in an effort to strangle the group. Such efforts have included large-scale violence that—although carried out overtly by military forces and thus not termed terrorism—has been every bit as lethal to innocent civilians. In such circumstances, why should Hamas be expected to be the first to go beyond the vocabulary of hudna and mouth some alternative words about the status of its adversary?
The Israeli and U.S. reactions do not seem to take account of the fact that the terms of the announced Hamas-PLO reconciliation are undetermined and still under negotiation. The agreement can involve Hamas moving much more toward the posture of Abbas and the PLO than the other way around.
Avi Issacharoff points out that the outcry over Hamas’s inclusion has obscured the details of the reconciliation deal:
[I]f Netanyahu weren’t so busy looking for excuses to not talk to the Palestinians, he would discover a few interesting things about the agreement.
First, Abbas has potentially brought Netanyahu and the international community what they were demanding: a government, with no Hamas representatives, made up only of technocrats, without politicians and with Abbas himself at its head. The government is supposed to deal not only with the West Bank, but also with the Gaza Strip.
And maybe that is what is making Netanyahu nervous. If the agreement does go into effect, if a government presiding over the Gaza Strip and West Bank is created, and if elections are held, Netanyahu could find himself facing a real partner in the person of Abbas. All the “no partner” claims, citing the fact that Abbas doesn’t rule the Gaza Strip, will cease to be relevant.
Goldblog gets why Netanyahu pulled out of peace talks, given Hamas’s nastiness, but calls the decision myopic nonetheless:
Israel doesn’t get to pick its enemies. It has to make peace with the ones it has. Hamas is one of those enemies. And Netanyahu’s argument doesn’t take into consideration that, theoretically at least, the Palestinian Authority could, over time, help moderate Hamas and bring it more into the two-state fold.
But who am I kidding? Maybe both of Netanyahu’s superficially contradictory beliefs are true. Maybe he can’t make peace with a divided Palestinian entity. And maybe he can’t make peace with a unified Palestinian entity. Maybe he can’t make peace with any Palestinian entity because members of his own political coalition are uninterested in taking the steps necessary for compromise.
Arguing that the “peace process” has become a charade, Ami Ayalon urges Israel to pursue a policy of “constructive unilateralism” in preparation for more substantive peace negotiations when the facts on the ground have improved:
Israel could also take steps that move it closer to its goal of securing its future as a Jewish democracy: declaring it has no sovereignty claims over areas east of the security fence, enacting a voluntary evacuation and compensation law for settlers who reside in these areas (while the Israel Defense Forces remain in those areas until an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is reached) and planning the absorption of these settlers back in Israel proper.
The next constructive step should be the Palestinian admission into the United Nations in September provided the Palestinians accept the international community’s conditions to renounce terror, recognize Israel and recognize previous agreements. The United States has a key role in facilitating this step.
Once progress is made in creating the reality of two states, negotiations can be restarted from a point much closer to a real Israeli-Palestinian agreement.