PA President Abbas with Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Abd Alhalim Abu Aska)
Finally, the purple elephant in the room stood up Wednesday and started to
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Ever since Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, all parties occupied
with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have pretended that Hamas’s control of
Gaza did not exist; that it was possible to talk about reaching a peace
agreement with the Palestinian Authority – you could even talk about a
Palestinian state – and somehow turn a blind eye to the fact Hamas was ensconced
in Gaza and was not just going to sit back and quietly let it all
Everyone knew, however, that at some point, if any of all the
peace and statehood talk was going to have any meaning whatsoever, it would be
necessary for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to reassert his authority over
There were a number of ways this could be done.
One was for
Israel to do the work for Abbas, his preferred option. There is no doubt that
Abbas would have liked nothing more than for Israel to finish off Hamas during
Operation Cast Lead two years ago, enabling him to ride back into Gaza City and
reassert his control over the region that his forces lost with nary a
But Israel didn’t do the job. Jerusalem had no interest in
paving Abbas’s way back into Gaza on the backs of dead IDF
Another way was if the Egyptians would do the work for Abbas.
But that, too, was a nonstarter.
The third way was for Abbas to do it
himself, for the PA to take responsibility for its own affairs and defeat Hamas
militarily – regain control the same way Hamas took it, via the sword. But it
was obvious that this was not going to happen for a couple of reasons: First,
because it was unlikely the PA could
defeat Hamas in Gaza, and secondly because
an allout civil war was not in the Palestinian interest.
Wednesday, with the surprise announcement of reconciliation coming out of Cairo,
was the blasting of a fourth path – reasserting control through
It is almost universally agreed in Israel that the
reconciliation won’t last, that there are too many cardinal issues separating
the two sides, but at least it will bring Abbas to the UN in September asking
for the world body’s recognition of statehood with the ability to debunk
Israel’s argument that he only represents half a future state.
most Israelis may see this reconciliation as a ruse, the world – or at least
that European part of the world, which is quickly emerging as the most important factor in whether the UN will
recognize Palestinian statehood in September – does not.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got up on YouTube on Wednesday and said that the PA
had to choose between Israel and Hamas, it is a safe bet his words resonated
loudly with the Israeli public who know Hamas: who can remember the week before
last and the year before that; who bear in mind Gilad Schalit and the inhuman
suffering imposed by Hamas on him and his family; who recall anti-tank missiles
on school buses and Grad rockets on Ashkelon.
Ah, but Europe is
different. For months there have been voices in the EU calling for engagement
with Hamas; voices proclaiming that peace is made with enemies; that Hamas can
be tamed by being brought into the political tent; that it is necessary to be
inclusive, not exclusive; that no agreement is possible without the Islamic
And rather than be put off, like most Israelis were, by the
fact that the PA is on the verge of incorporating into its unity government an
organization calling for Israel’s destruction, many in Europe will see this move
as an indication that Hamas has become pragmatic and more “moderate” as a result
of the apparent loss of its patron in Syria.
These voices will see
indications of Hamas- Fatah reconciliation as support for their desire to begin
engaging Hamas – immediately and openly And these voices will be the ones to
jump on Netanyahu’s comments about the PA having to choose between Israel and
Hamas to say that, once again, it is Netanyahu who is the rejectionist;
Netanyahu who is blocking the way to progress; Netanyahu who is setting
Defense Minister Ehud Barak took a more nuanced approach in
an Israel Radio interview on Thursday.
Certainly Israel will have nothing
to do with an unreformed Hamas, he said. But, he implied, rather than ruling out
a Palestinian unity government from the start, just make clear to the world that
it is fine on the condition that Hamas abides by the Quartet’s three conditions
for engagement: recognition of Israel, forswearing terrorism, accepting previous
And if Hamas does that, Barak said – paraphrasing Ariel
Sharon – they will “turn into Finns, not Hamas. And with Finns we are prepared
That approach places the onus on the Palestinians. Israel is
not cast as the perpetual rejectionist, and when the reconciliation blows up –
as is likely, either because Hamas and Fatah differences are irreconcilable, or
because Hamas can’t meet the three conditions and remain Hamas – it will be the
Palestinians who can be cast as the rejectionists, not Israel.