Encountering peace: Doing the wrong thing at that wrong time

Palestinians supporting Hamas chant slogans during a rally celebrating Hamas student supporters winning the student council election at Birzeit University in Ramallah (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians supporting Hamas chant slogans during a rally celebrating Hamas student supporters winning the student council election at Birzeit University in Ramallah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If you want to destroy the Palestinian Authority, if you want to decimate (politically) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, if you want Fatah to wither away, if you want to permanently separate Gaza from the West Bank, if you want to empower Hamas in Gaza and in the West Bank, if you want to remove the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, if you want to weaken the regimes of the Hashemite Kingdom and Abdel Fattah Sisi in Egypt in one blow... then make a long-term cease-fire deal with Hamas. It is as easy as that.
Now, when Hamas is extremely weak, it is prepared to enter into an agreement with Israel which will instantly make its rule in Gaza permanent and increase its popularity in the West Bank. Hamas is not prepared, of course, to change its ideology of seeking Israel’s destruction, of not recognizing Israel, of not putting down its arms and rockets, of not ceasing to construct tunnels leading into Israel and develop more advanced rockets.
Hamas is prepared to maintain a long-term ceasefire with Israel in exchange for Israel opening up Gaza and ending the economic siege. All that Hamas is willing to give in exchange is that it will not shoot rockets at Israel. At the same time, Hamas will continue to work against Palestinian moderates who are willing to negotiate with Israel. It will work to take over the West Bank.
It will not include the West Bank in the ceasefire, claiming that it doesn’t (yet) control the West Bank. The making of an agreement with Hamas, even if negotiated by Israel’s good friend Tony Blair – the man who made millions by doing business in the Arab Gulf while heading the international Quartet, is an insane idea that goes against Israel’s most important national security interests.
The situation in Gaza is intolerable. Without significant change it is just a matter of time before Gaza explodes and leads Israel to another military escapade that will take the lives of thousands and destroy the homes and businesses of hundreds of thousands.
Hamas is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
But the solution is mostly in the hands of Israel.
Gaza must be opened. There is no excuse for not allowing people in Gaza to have a better life and Gaza’s economy to develop. Security for Israel must be maintained and the arms embargo on Gaza is more than legitimate. Israel has every right to prevent “dual use” goods (civilian goods which have potential military value) from entering Gaza. There is no excuse, though, for preventing Gaza’s economy from connecting to the rest of the world through commerce with the West Bank (in both directions, with necessary security checks) and with the rest of the world.
There is no excuse for preventing Gazans from traveling to Jordan or Gazan students from attending universities in the West Bank or abroad. There is no excuse for preventing Gazans from getting to the US Consulate in Jerusalem for visa interviews.
There should be significant Israeli interest in seeing Gazans getting back to work, lowering the estimated 60 percent unemployment rate there. There are real reasons for Israel to want to see Gaza’s industrial sector getting back to work and the construction of houses and schools to happen.
All of this is not solely in Israel’s power. The Hamas regime has never really shown any genuine interest in Gaza’s economic development (with the exception of its own tunnel smuggling enterprises), but nonetheless Israel should do everything possible to enable Gaza’s economy to expand without endangering Israel’s security. And all of that can be done without an agreement with Hamas.
The longer-term solutions for Gaza must see Gaza as part and parcel of the larger Palestinian issue and the right of the Palestinian people for self-determination in a state of their own which will be demilitarized and living in peace with Israel. That must be done as part of a wider regional framework which includes Egypt and Jordan and is supported by a wider circle of the more moderate Sunni Arab states.
There are no short-cuts to this, such as entering into a long-term (five-year) cease-fire with Hamas.
That might have been possible in the past, as I once proposed, but then my proposal included serious and genuine negotiations with Abbas on ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state which would include the West Bank and Gaza, but only implemented in Gaza when the regime there agrees to the terms – which will include demilitarization.
Several years ago I asked Abbas what he thought about Israel negotiating a long-term cease-fire with Hamas. I asked him before I began talking to Hamas leaders about such a cease-fire. Abbas gave it a green light and said that in order to seriously negotiate with Israel on Palestinian statehood including the West Bank and Gaza, Gaza had to be quiet and calm without periodic eruptions that lead to violence and war and many Palestinian casualties.
That is not the situation today, because the Netanyahu government has no intention of negotiating a deal with Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. If a long-term cease-fire is reached with Hamas in the absence of any genuine peace process with the legitimate Palestinian representatives based in Ramallah, the Palestinian street and the Arab world will instantly understand that you only get concessions and political achievements from Israel when you use violence. That message will be heard on the streets of Cairo and Amman and will empower those in Egypt and Jordan who want to burn the peace treaties that have existed for decades.
Netanyahu’s office announced that there are no direct or indirect contacts with Hamas and no mediators acting on Israel’s behalf. It is difficult for me to see any wisdom whatsoever in trying to reach such a deal with Hamas, but Netanyahu’s real intentions of not negotiating with the Palestinians may override the wisdom of not negotiating with Hamas. Not negotiating with the moderate Palestinian leadership is unwise, negotiating with Hamas is even more unwise.
I have brought to Netanyahu on numerous occasions opportunities for serious talks with the Palestinian leadership authorized by Abbas directly, and Netanyahu has continuously rejected those offers (even within the past two weeks). There will never be peace without talking with the moderate Palestinian leadership. There will not be peace now by talking to Hamas. I wish I could trust Netanyahu not to do the wrong thing at the wrong time, but I do not.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel was published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.