Speaking yesterday at an economic conference, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "As long as [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] does not cooperate with Hamas, and as long as the Palestinian government is not led by Hamas, we will cooperate with the Palestinian Authority. Carefully, responsibly, [and] with the intention of strengthening elements who recognize Israel's right to exist without terror and within secure borders... we will not play into the hands of extremists."
This statement, along with its corollary decision to release the PA's tax revenues collected by Israel, is extremely difficult to fathom.
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Even before the election of Hamas, it was Israel's position that we had no partner in the PA led by Mahmoud Abbas, because the PA was not lifting a finger to combat terrorism. If Abbas was not worth talking to then, why should Israel talk to him now that the idea of the PA disarming Hamas has become absurd?
If any world leader spoke as if there were a possibility, in the wake of Hamas's landslide sweep of the Palestinian Legislative Council, that Abbas would be more than a powerless figurehead, he or she might have expected Israel's criticism for hopeless, and harmful, naivete. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a US or European leader so openly pretending that there is a chance that Abbas will be in control of a future Palestinian regime, let alone that Abbas will have the option of not "cooperating" with Hamas.
In the past, it has been the world that was leading the way with "let's pretend," and Israel that would, somewhat despairingly, say, "let's face reality." Now, Olmert has been proudly pointing to a global consensus not to engage with or fund a Hamas-led regime formally dedicated to Israel's destruction. But how can Israel expect such a consensus to hold if we ourselves lead the way in pretending that Hamas might not be in charge? Why are we holding up the very fig leaf that, if anyone else were to have the temerity to raise it, would richly deserve our derision?
Speaking at the same event about the decision to release Palestinian tax revenues collected by Israel, Olmert said, "There are people who want to have a situation of continuous war, never-ending terror and to eliminate hopes for peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Taking these considerations into account, we decided to transfer sums we collect on behalf of the Palestinian people to the Palestinian Authority - money that belongs to them."
In other words, not only will Israel continue to release millions of shekels directly to the PA, but it is insinuating that anyone who objects wants "continuous war" and to "eliminate hope."
Hope is a flexible concept and one that we, in principle, wholeheartedly embrace. It does not, however, extend so far as to embrace the idea that Abbas will control Hamas, when Abbas failed to do so before Hamas was so greatly strengthened by the recent Palestinian elections. There is a point where "hope" not only enters the realm of fantasy and delusion, but is so based in unreality that it serves to drive the real hope for peace further away.
Olmert's declared policy of refusing to engage with or support a PA dominated by an unreconstructed Hamas, and urging the world to do the same, is exactly correct. This policy does hold the hope of finally ending international support for a Palestinian regime that is deeply implicated in and responsible for terrorism against Israel. It even holds the much slimmer hope of forcing Hamas to renounce its own ideology.
But now Olmert is undermining his own declared policy of isolation with his also declared policy of preemptive engagement with and funding of the coming Hamas-dominated regime.
How can we expect the international community not to fall for a PA with Abbas kept on as a figurehead if Israel itself is already justifying and exemplifying such a policy?
Declarations aside, Israel is acting as if it wishes to save the PA from collapse even if Hamas is the force behind it. The specter, if it is one, of the PA's collapse should be Hamas's problem, not ours. It is Hamas, and not Israel, that should have to grapple with the changes necessary to avert such a crisis.