The ramifications of the upheaval sweeping the region for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been a subject of dispute. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has taken the understandable view that, with hitherto stable regimes suddenly in varying stages of deterioration, Israel must be particularly resolute in its demand for ironclad security arrangements in any settlement with its neighbors.

Establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel would end Israel’s rule over the Palestinians and protect its status as both Jewish and democratic – two cardinal interests – but it would also bring Ben-Gurion Airport within range of a shoulder-held anti-aircraft rocket launcher located in Palestinian-controlled territory. Israel must know that it would be handing over control to a Palestinian leadership that is both committed to reconciliation and genuinely stable; we cannot afford a repeat of the disaster of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Internationally the developments of recent months are sometimes viewed in a different light. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, for instance, told The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon last week that now was the time for bold peace initiatives on Israel’s part: “I would now find it even more imperative to try to reach out to the Palestinian side of things... It is difficult to think it will be easier to make a peace agreement five years from now than five months from now.”

Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the German parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, in explaining to the New York Times his country’s decision to support a UN Security Council Resolution denouncing Israeli settlements as “illegal,” said that this did not indicate that Germany no longer defended the security of Israel. “It means,” said Polenz, “that Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to explain to the Israeli government that with the extraordinary changes taking place across the Middle East, time is not on its side when it comes to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.”

President Barack Obama told close to 50 representatives in a meeting at the White House with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations last week that while he understood Israeli security concerns, he also felt that progress in peace talks with the Palestinians now could ease the Jewish state’s international isolation. Unable to ignore international pressure, Netanyahu is reportedly in the process of formulating a new peace initiative whose parameters have yet to be announced.

UNFORTUNATELY, NO remotely equivalent pressure is being brought to bear upon the Palestinian leadership. Nor has the Palestinian Authority taken steps to facilitate the renewal of substantive talks. The opposite is true. “We want the EU countries to recognize a Palestinian unity government that would include Hamas,” PA negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said in Cairo Monday.

Instead of highlighting to its own people the imperative to come to viable peace terms, and encouraging Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept past peace agreements – the three international conditions for the legitimization of Hamas – the Fatahcontrolled PA is now pressuring the EU to soften its demands. It may believe that the EU might currently favor some flexibility regarding the recognition of Hamas in the ostensible cause of advancing the peace process.

Facilitating Hamas’s legitimization and paving the way for a unity government would also boost Fatah’s waning popularity by satisfying the Palestinian people’s demand to end the rift between Gaza and the West Bank. But this is hardly the responsible Palestinian leadership with whom Israel aspires to sign a lasting accord. And it is highly disturbing that Hamas – which states in its charter that “peace initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement” – enjoys such popularity among Palestinians.

It is wrongheaded and dangerous for the EU, the Quartet or the US to pressure Israel to reach a rushed deal with a Palestinian leadership that has done precious little to prepare its people for peace and is now pushing to legitimize a terrorist organization. Instead, the PA must be encouraged to offer a sane alternative to Hamas that assiduously promotes reconciliation with Israel, and freedom, human rights and democracy for Palestinians – aspirations that are suddenly, encouragingly, in such high demand in this region. The PA should also be expected to return to peace talks in which Israel’s legitimate security concerns are addressed without preconditions.

This would go a long way toward creating an atmosphere in which a lasting peace might be achieved. The accord we need with the Palestinians, as recent developments in the region illustrate, needs to be negotiated with a stable, peaceably minded leadership, and one that reflects the will of its people too.

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