Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Downing Street in London, June 6, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
The UK is being torn up these days over its prospective departure from the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May had successfully negotiated a Brexit agreement with the 27 EU member states, but her real challenge begins now at home, where she is facing harsh criticism from within her own coalition, the opposition, businesses, civil society groups and more. It is not easy, but it is essential.
This is a fateful decision that will dramatically project on the economic and social prospects of the United Kingdom for generations to come.
In Israel, the reality is different. After 400 missiles and mortar shells shot at Israel’s southern communities, the government continues to act with restraint and prefers negotiating an agreement with Hamas over another violent escalation. However, unlike the fierce public debate that takes place in the UK, the Israeli public knows close to nothing about the substance of its government’s talks with Hamas – apart from delivering suitcases loaded with dollars from Qatar to Gaza’s leadership (which has reportedly been the first of several payments to be made in the coming six months). Unlike Theresa May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is giving no interviews on the matter. Unlike the House of Commons, the Knesset does not deliberate over the agreement with Hamas and is not expected to vote on it.
In 2007, prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense ministers Amir Peretz and Ehud Barak put Gaza under a paralyzing blockade. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni recruited the international community to join in the refusal to recognize the newly elected Hamas government. In parallel, they hoped to build the political and economic infrastructure for a thriving Palestinian state in the West Bank and to sign a final-status peace agreement with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Such an agreement was to end the economic and diplomatic isolation of Hamas, once it finally joined the PLO in recognizing Israel, adopted former agreements, and renounced terrorism.
Almost a decade ago, Netanyahu was elected based on his promise to be more forceful in bringing down the Hamas rule in Gaza. Ever since he stepped into the role of prime minister, he postponed the realization of that policy and stuck to the previous policy of blockading Gaza, while making various gestures to its Hamas government, concessions that he explained by pressures from president Barack Obama and his center-left coalition partners. For the past two years, Netanyahu has neither Obama nor any center-left coalition partners to blame, yet he continues working toward an agreement with Hamas.
The idea of making a deal with Hamas is not new.
Ismail Haniyeh – head of the Hamas political wing and formerly Gaza’s prime minister – recently declared that his movement would accept a peace agreement with Israel, subject to a referendum to be held among the Palestinian people. Previously, in 2006, Hamas leaders offered a hudna (a long-term ceasefire) of 20 years in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Shaul Mofaz, defense minister at the time and former IDF chief of the General Staff, had proposed to negotiate with Hamas.
Such talks are already taking place, at least indirectly.
Unlike former agreements, including the 2011 deal to release Gilad Shalit and 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, the agreement that is currently being discussed will be fateful – much like the agreement that is now being deliberated in the United Kingdom.
However, unlike Brexit, the Netanyahu-Haniyeh accords are behind a thick smokescreen. Citizens, the media, and the Knesset are all barred from discussing it. What is the price that Israel is being asked to pay to Hamas? What does Israel get in exchange? Under what timeframe is the agreement to be implemented, what is the oversight mechanism, and what are the implications for any breach of the agreement? Does such an agreement include the return of the citizens Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, and Jumaa Abu Ghanima and the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, all held by Hamas since the last war in 2014 and the following years? We deserve to hold a serious public discussion over this important matter, just as the British people do in regard to the future of their country outside the EU.
Netanyahu warned last week about holding early elections, which might end up with another “Oslo disaster” (the same “disastrous” Oslo Accords that Netanyahu himself maintained and preserved throughout his many years in office). However controversial it was and remains to this day, the Oslo process was adopted by the Knesset following a passionate and heated public debate. Prime minister Rabin never conducted his talks with Arafat in the cowardly and anti-democratic manner that Netanyahu is carrying out negotiations with Hamas. Just like with the Oslo Accords, it is time for the Netanyahu-Haniyeh accords to be exposed and bring them to a vote in the Knesset.The writer is the former Israeli director of the OneVoice Movement for a two-state solution and an active member of the Labor Party.
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