It is reported that the Palestinians are on the verge of a unity government once again. History argues against this as a lasting arrangement, but regardless, Israel’s reaction is predictably and unnecessarily negative. Prime Minister Netanyahu repeats the mantra that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority can have peace with Israel or unity with Hamas but not both. While I understand this view, I think that Israel should have a more creative response.
Why not critique this deal by suggesting that peace can be had with Israel if Hamas fully endorses the principle of peaceful coexistence? If, as some argue, Hamas is moving toward accepting Israel, why not suggest that this be a component of the Palestinian unity process? Instead of simply dismissing them as “terrorists,” challenge Hamas to definitively and explicitly change from a movement rooted in “armed struggle” and antisemitism into one that makes history by breaking with its past.
I know, Hamas sometimes hints at a long-term truce or armistice with Israel and at accepting Israel along the pre-1967 borders. But a truce is not a peace, and demanding a particular end-point of a territorial agreement is not the same thing as negotiating a deal. The many contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians need to be hammered out in an overall treaty. Moderates and progressives on both sides have long known that a territorial settlement will be based on the old ’67 boundary but would also include a substantial exchange of territories. Unfortunately, Israel is neither politically nor physically capable of removing over a half million Jews from all post-1967 neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and each and every West Bank settlement. But, if both Israelis and Palestinians can summon the wit and the will, a deal is there to be made.
I think a bottom line is that Israel needs a resolution of the conflict with the palestinians to avoid renewed conflict, to effectively address her domestic problems, and to remain both a Jewish and a democratic state, and she should regard the Fatah-Hamas unty and other events in that light. Perhaps it is better having Hamas as part of the palestinian government than on the outside trying to destroy chances for an agreement.
The one important point that you omit, Ralph, is that the Fatah-Hamas agreement is not designed as a long-term arrangement, but as a mechanism to allow for long-overdue and important Palestinian elections (for President and Palestinian parliament)
A peace-seeking Israeli government should welcome such elections, since the drift in Palestinian public opinion has been in favor of Fatah in recent years(see http://subyraman.com/palestinian-public-opinion-2006-2011-decline-of-hamas-rise-of-fatah/ , for example).
A strong electoral performance by Fatah (led by Marwan Barghouti?) might perhaps restore a situation that Israel’s government purportedly wants – a Palestinian negotiating partner that seeks a two-state solution and that has control over Gaza as well.
Netanyahu knows that the ‘unity’ government, if ever created, is designed only as a caretaker apparatus that won’t be creating new policy. Yet he insists on doing what he does best – he panders to the Israeli public’s fears.
As Yossi Beilin stated with some bitterness after Hamas won a plurality of the vote in 2006, the Oslo rules would have prohibited Hamas participation in the election without it signing onto a peace agenda– if only the Bush administration had cared enough to push this. Yes, Netanyahu panders to Israel’s fears, which is why I’m suggesting a more positive Israeli approach. But the surest way for the Palestinians to allay those fears is for a unity government to endorse peace.
If the Netanyahu government had the least interest in pursuing peace, it would encourage the Fatah-Hamas unity. What better way to bring the people of Gaza under West Bank kind of umbrella, and give them something to hope for. Many Gazans do not like their government, and this is a way to change it, a way that would help Israel.