In stark contrast to its reaction to the last serious attempt at a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation in 2014, Israel kept a very low profile on Monday as PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in Gaza for talks with Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in 2014 called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision at the time to form a unity government with Hamas a “great reverse for peace,” has not spoken out publicly about the matter this time.
Instead, what diplomatic officials are saying on background is that Israel’s position is that “Hamas is trying to gain international legitimacy, without accepting Israel’s right to exist, without disarming and without accepting the Quartet principles.”
The Quartet principles for engaging with Hamas, drawn up over a decade ago, stipulated that the organization must first recognize Israel, accept previous agreements with it and forswear terrorism.
Hamas, according to the diplomatic officials, “remains a ruthless, mass-murdering terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction.”
While a security cabinet meeting was convened in 2014 to discuss the proposed Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and it was unanimously decided that Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, there have been no similar pronouncements this time.
Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet and a former OC Southern Command, said in response to the recent moves that Israel had three major interests in Gaza: that the area be quiet; that the terrorist capabilities – rockets, tunnels and explosives – be dismantled; and that Israel have no responsibility for anything happening in Gaza.
As a result, he said, Israel “will judge any kind of conversation between Hamas and the Fatah organization according to specific parameters. First of all, are they willing to accept the existence of Israel in this area? Second, are they going to stop shooting and terrorist actions against Israel? And third, do they look to a future of Palestinians and Jews living side by side in this area? If the answer to these questions is positive, there is a lot to talk about. If the answer to these questions is negative, nothing has changed and this is only a camouflage.”
Eran Lerman, who served from 2009 to 2015 as deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council, said that the reason Israel has not responded negatively to the political developments in Gaza this time has to do with Egypt’s key role in brokering the deal.
“The Egyptian role is overt, aggressive, and we basically have the same instincts as Egypt does when it comes to Hamas,” Lerman said in a conference call set up by The Israel Project.
“But of course they have ways of influencing what is happening in Gaza that Israel no longer has.”
Lerman said that Hamas has realized that the Gazans are “sick and tired of the deprivation” caused by its rule, and that it has to “play according to what their people need.”
“If there is an underlying theme here, it is that Hamas as a government has come to terms with things that Hamas as a terrorist organization has refused to come to terms with, and that is a positive,” he said.
At the same time, Lerman added, there is no prospect of real Palestinian unity, since Hamas will not put its arms under the control of the PA security services.
In this sense, he said, from an Israeli point of view, the current developments in Gaza “will make no change in the threats that Hamas continues to constitute.”
Lerman concurred with those who see similarities between what is likely to emerge in Gaza and the Hezbollah model in Lebanon, where the Lebanese government is in charge of collecting garbage and carrying out the country’s diplomatic relations, and Hezbollah retains its arms and full freedom of action.
The US, meanwhile, welcomed the efforts to “create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza.”
Jason Greenblatt, the White House special representative for international negotiations, issued a statement saying the US will be closely watching the developments, “while pressing forward with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international donors to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”
The US, the statement read, “stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations.”