Something amazing happened in the Middle East this week. Surprisingly and unprecedentedly, Hamas and Fatah signed a cooperation agreement and decided to form a unity government. Who knows – they might even join forces in the next Palestinian Authority election. Immediately afterwards, PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Israel’s occupation of the territories is the greatest form of terrorism in the Middle East.
And that was that – the negotiations ended. Now there’s no chance that the Palestinians will reach an agreement with Israel, “the terrorist country,” and no need to apologize to the Americans.
In case anyone has forgotten, this is not the first time that the PA or Fatah has signed a cooperation agreement with Hamas, either in Gaza or the West Bank. One example is the Doha Agreement, which was signed in February 2012. Other agreements were signed even before Hamas violently took over Gaza. Fatah and PA officials know full well that these agreements are meaningless and have no chance of remaining in effect for more than a few months. But these agreements serve both sides well with respect to public opinion – at least for in the short term.
The agreement brings Hamas – usually considered an illegitimate terrorist organization – a sense of legitimacy, since it is supposedly joining the official Palestinian government. And Mahmoud Abbas’s shaky Fatah is also seemingly reinforced as a result of the agreement. Both of them benefit from the fact that Israel was the one to officially call the quits on negotiations.
A year ago, when the talks resumed, I wrote in my column that this round of talks would not lead to any real changes. I wrote that at most it would bring us a bit of hope, but nothing more than that.
Now, the Americans will have time to focus on their domestic economic problems.
Israel will never be willing to give up all of the land the Palestinians demand. The Palestinians will always consider Jerusalem their capital, and yet Israel will never allow it to be divided. The Palestinians will continue to demand that the Jordan Valley be demilitarized of Israeli forces, but the Israelis will never agree to relinquish control of this strategic area.
The Palestinians will continue to demand that 1948 refugees be allowed to return to their original homes, but Israel opposes this outright and will only agree to let them return to a future Palestinian state.
Israel will demand that the Palestinians recognize the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, but the Palestinians will only recognize the State of Israel – not a Jewish one.
The Americans admitted at the onset of talks that the detailed conditions that will need to be fulfilled if negotiations are to take place were not yet finalized, and that the process would require difficult concessions and courage from both sides if we were to achieve any progress. But everyone knew that neither side was going to budge, since no negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have ever met with any success, including those initiated by the US.
In 2010, the American plan to renew political negotiations failed due to the inability of the two sides to reach an agreement. The Americans and Europeans both tried at different times to initiate political negotiations, but without success. One time the second intifada broke out, another time there was a terrible terrorist attack. The rest of the attempts failed due to lack of motivation from both sides.
It is clear to all today that neither of the sides is particularly motivated to carry out negotiations. Binyamin Netanyahu is not capable of or interested in signing an agreement with the Palestinians that involve any concessions.
Abbas is not capable of reaching an agreement in which refugees will be allowed to return to their original homes, and Jerusalem will never become the capital of the Palestinian state. Any agreement that Abbas reaches will be considered a complete failure. So what can he do? Diplomatic acrobatics.
Fatah signed an impossible reconciliation agreement with Hamas and together they plan to form a unity government. So the Israelis refused to carry out the last prisoner release and are continuing to build settlements.
Negotiations have stopped and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat will need to look for something else to keep themselves busy.
Negotiations between Israel and the PA, and the dialogue between them, are important tools that can preserve the status quo and prevent the situation from getting worse. They are also important, as I’ve stated in the past, as a way to bide our time until a later date when an agreement might be able to be signed. But unilateral actions such as the one the Palestinians took last week will halt even the smallest amounts of progress we have made.
Things played out the way they did, though, because the Palestinians drew encouragement from John Kerry’s words and his policy of constantly blaming Israel for the failure of the talks. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not important why the talks failed.
What counts is the end result. In the absence of negotiations and of a dynamic of action and progress, both sides will lose any hope they have left that positive change is possible. Soon, people will become desperate. This is the opportunity that Palestinian terrorist leaders and Jewish extremists have been waiting for.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.