Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the two sides prepare to return to Cairo to resume negotiations toward a long-term cease-fire, diplomatic plans for the future of the Gaza Strip continue to pour in from Israel and around the world. While these proposals differ in many details, a common denominator seems to be the increased role for President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in Gaza.
Despite the general consensus regarding the need to strengthen Palestinian forces, seeking to foster Abbas’s return to Gaza shows a striking lack of historical perspective and risks further legitimizing and institutionalizing Hamas’ hold on Palestinian society.
Since the outbreak of this conflict in mid-July, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s long-term plan has been a return of PA rule to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
According to both his public statements and knowledgeable sources in whom he confides, Secretary Kerry hopes the return of Abbas’s forces to the border crossings will serve as a first step in the PA’s retaking control of the Strip from Hamas. The secretary also believes this will increase the chances of substantial peace talks leading to a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Many in Israel support Secretary Kerry’s mistaken hypothesis that the PA is part of a long-term solution. At a press conference summing up the Gaza operation, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was asked about a possible role for Abbas in Gaza. He responded that if the Fatah head continues to renounce violence then the prime minster could envision Abbas’s forces returning to Gaza.
This policy seems to be in line with other major players in the governing coalition.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose justification for remaining in the government hinges on the continuation of a peace process, has repeatedly advocated for a return to talks with Abbas. Both in the prelude to Operation Protective Edge and since the cease-fire, Minister Livni has argued that Abbas is our only alternative to Hamas and that therefore we must restart negotiations with him.
Similarly, the first point of Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s new diplomatic initiative also calls for the return of the PA to Gaza. Like Minister Livni, Minister Lapid seems to believe that if we could only turn back the clock to 2007 when President Abbas ruled Gaza, peace would reign in our region. With his 19 parliamentary seats that now equal those of my governing Likud Party, Lapid’s statements should not be ignored.
I understand the desire to seek a quick solution to the (seemingly intractable) problem that is Gaza, those who support Abbas’s return ignore a number of critical issues. Many in the West – and on the Israeli Left – who pin high hopes on Abbas and his “moderate” Fatah faction gloss over the fact that Hamas actually won a majority in the Palestinian parliament the last time elections were held in 2006. Additionally, Abbas’ term as elected president of the PA expired in 2009, and he remains in office only as a result of a self-appointing decree he issued, postponing elections indefinitely.
It is important to keep in mind that Hamas did not just take control of the Gaza Strip via a military coup, but was also victorious in internationally-sanctioned elections in Judea and Samaria as well. This means that if the PA were to be given a role in administering Gaza, all it would take is another round of elections for us to find ourselves likely in a face off with Hamas once again. Only now the Islamists will be bolstered by new, legitimating elections.
Just a few short months ago Abbas made the fateful choice to reject negotiations with the State of Israel. At that time he formed instead a unity government with Hamas. With Hamas’ refusal to accept the Quartet’s principles, including recognition of Israel’s right to exist and renunciation of violence, the government of Israel announced that it was ending all talks with the overtly terrorist-supported PA. Unless Hamas completely changes its raison d’être, allowing the PA to return to Gaza would merely mean that the Hamas members administering Gaza will be replaced with Hamas-appointed officials playing the same role.
Even if Abbas dissolves his partnership with Hamas and succeeds in retaining control of the PA, either by unilaterally extending his term in office again or by holding and winning new elections, it would not mean the end of Hamas rule in Gaza. What is to stop Hamas from overthrowing Abbas the day after he returns to Gaza? This is not only what Hamas did in Gaza in 2007; it is what Hamas was planning to do in Judea and Samaria all along, as our security forces discovered just last month.
As leaders we must be honest with constituents. Returning Abbas and his cohorts to Gaza will not resolve any problem or make the residents of Israel any safer. The terrorists will remain the de facto rulers of Gaza under such an arrangement and continue to threaten Israel. If anything, artificially installing a PA government in Gaza will likely limit Israel’s ability to act militarily during the next inevitable flare-up down south. The international community has mistakenly labeled Abbas as a peace-seeking moderate and is unlikely to stand by if Israel were to conduct another military operation in Gaza under such circumstances.
I understand the need to find a silver lining in a bleak situation. It is a very human tendency to search for hope in dark times such as these. We must recognize, however, that Abbas is not a savior for the situation in Gaza. Only the military removal of the Hamas regime will bring about a chance for sustained security for the citizens of Israel. It may not be a utopian peace, but for the foreseeable future management of the conflict by Israel, Egypt and our other regional partners is the best possible solution for the predicament called Gaza.The author is a Knesset member and served as Israel’s deputy defense minister.