The unthinkable has happened! Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Kerry have made a remarkable achievement. They made peace…between Hamas and Fatah (video). They’ve bridged the unbridgeable, intractable hostility that has festered between the two Palestinian factions for seven years, since a U.S. fomented Fatah coup failed. The result was a rump Fatah faction controlling the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza. Many previous attempts by Egypt and Gulf States to broker a truce or compromise have failed. But Israel’s refusal to honor the framework agreed to during earlier negotiations has driven the Palestinian groups into each other’s arms. It’s quite an achievement (for the emir of Qatar and Egyptian officials, who brokered the agreement); one of which Bibi and Kerry should be proud, though I doubt they’ll see it that way.
Given the two previous failures, it’s proper to exercise caution and wait to see whether the deal holds. There are many elements to the agreement and it could founder on any of them. But if it holds, it will have multiple ramifications for future negotiations (if there are any).
First, neither Israel nor the U.S. wants reconciliation. They want a docile PA upon which they may exert pressure and get a favorable deal. The PA alone is far more likely to accede to Israeli demands. A united government will force the PA to come up with an agreement that will also be acceptable to Hamas and its followers, a considerably more demanding constituency.
This means Israel may refuse to negotiate at all, as the prime minister indicated when he cancelled the next round of talks. If Israel’s rejectionist position holds over the long term, then the rest of the world will adopt a far more aggressive position against the Occupation and in favor of BDS. This will also revive, and add credibility to the Palestinian effort to achieve recognition on the world stage. You can expect another campaign for recognition of statehood before the General Assembly in the coming months.
This is Abbas’ vote of no confidence in both Kerry and this Israeli government. It also bodes ill for U.S. policy towards the region. It certainly signals the failure of the Kerry-led talks. Till now, our policy has been predicated on a quiescent PA. With a revived Palestinian movement, it will prove much harder to attain a deal. This may seal a U.S. decision to commence a period of ‘benign neglect’ regarding the I-P conflict.
The U.S. response was less than enthusiastic:
The U.S. State Department said the timing of the Palestinian reconciliation deal was “troubling” and that it was “disappointed” by the announcement.
“It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
Psaki might want to brush up her Shakespeare and ‘ancient’ Israel-Palestine history: in the past this issue was finessed by determining that the PLO would conduct peace negotiations while the Palestinian legislative body, which would include Hamas representatives, would accede to the PLO in this matter. The final deal, if there is one, would be put to the entire Palestinian people, upon which Hamas would agree to go along.
If the U.S. wants to remain the only party in Israel’s rejectionist camp refusing to recognize such a government as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, then we risk making ourselves the laughingstock of the rest of the world.
Israel’s demand of veto power in determining which Palestinian government it will negotiate with brought to my mind an historical analogy: imagine if when Britain announced it was ready to negotiate its surrender in 1783, George Washington had announced he would only do so if King George expelled a political party from the ruling coalition. Or if the French in 1962 refused to negotiate peace with the Algerians till the latter’s ruling party expelled leaders whom France disliked. It’s simply absurd.
The wild card will be how Islamic Jihad and radical Palestinian elements will react. They may be under no obligation to respect the agreement and may see it as giving them carte blanche to pursue an independent approach that might include terror attacks. But if those impulses can be reigned in, then the Palestinians may actually eschew armed conflict for a period to determine how the world reacts to their new-found unity (or at least, conciliation). This would be a real opportunity for the world to step forward and accord Palestine the recognition and respect it deserves, including removing Hamas from terror lists should it continue to eschew armed conflict. In truth, for there ultimately to be peace, Palestinians must be united in order to maintain any possible agreement they might make. Without such consensus, there can be no agreement with Israel.
That may be one of the reasons, Netanyahu hates such a prospect. With it, the world will take Palestinian interests much more seriously and Israeli interests (as interpreted by its ultra-nationalist government) less so.
The success of this new venture depends on the seriousness and adaptability of the parties. It remains to be seen how strongly Hamas and Fatah are committed to it. If they are, and there are elections in six months with the winning faction governing the revived PA, it will change the attitude of international leaders to Palestine, and further diminish Israel’s status.
A recent poll by An-Najah University indicates strong support both for a unity government and talks with the Israelis. The poll found that if elections were held now Fatah would hold a plurality and Hamas would come in a distant second. If those are the actual election results, it remains to be seen whether Hamas will be willing to allow the PA to govern in Gaza. All this will be a new adventure in what one hopes will be responsible governance.