Perceptions and misperceptions in the Schalit deal

Hamas wants to portray the prisoner release as a victory that Abbas couldn’t have achieved. The truth is not so simple.

Gilad Schalit arrives at his home in Mitzpe Hila 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gilad Schalit arrives at his home in Mitzpe Hila 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
The agreement between Israel and the Hamas which brought about the release of Gilad Schalit is perceived to be a triumph for Hamas.
As a result of this deal, many people believe Hamas has demonstrated that violence against Israel reaps more fruits than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s non-violent policy. It is undoubtedly true that the latest deal, achieved with the help of Egyptian mediation, is widely seen among Palestinian Arabs as a victory for Hamas.
However, the formula whereby Hamas has shown that violence pays and that kidnappings are more likely to bring results for the Palestinian people than Fatah's non-violence is a distortion of reality.
The comparison between Hamas' violence and Fatah's non-violent stance is simplistic and narrow-minded. Rather, the correct question to be posed ought to be. are Hamas' violent tactics and rejectionist stance more successful in bringing about tangible, long-term results for the Palestinian Arabs than a serious process of negotiations with Israel?
TO BE sure, Abbas – known among Palestinians as Abu Mazen – is currently a prisoner of his own policies. He cannot demonstrate to his own people that earnest negotiations with Israel is preferable and a more profitable option than anything the Hamas has to offer. He has advanced two-preconditions in order to renew the negotiations with Israel. Until those two pre-conditions are met, he has repeatedly said, no peace talks with Israel are possible.
These two pre-conditions are: a total freeze of Israeli settlement activity and negotiations based on the June 4,1967 boundary. To be sure, these conditions were presented by Abu Mazen in the wake of similar statements made by US President Barack Obama, who since then has either changed his position (regarding settlement activity) or has been compelled to clarify what he meant (concerning negotiations on the basis of the lines prevailing previous to the Six Day War).
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did freeze settlement activity for a 10- month period in order to facilitate a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. However, it took Abu Mazen nine months to come to the negotiating table.
Thus, the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the Fatah Movement has created a reality, through his own rhetoric, that precludes him from demonstrating to his own people that his chosen pacific, diplomatic route is the only way forward.
Only by negotiating with Israel will he be able to get tangible results. His alternative vision to what Hamas has to offer should not merely be adopting a policy of non-violence. He needs to negotiate with Israel in order to be able to show that his preferred course of action reaps more concrete and long-term results for his people.
By negotiating with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Abu Mazen managed to obtain an unprecedented peace offer entailing a withdrawal of Israel from practically 100 percent of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and East Jerusalem. Hamas’ violence would never have led to the same results. Kidnapping Israelis and killing innocent civilians would never have led any Israeli leader to agree to anything close to the concessions created by a peaceful and serious negotiating process.
In the long run, Hamas’s violent tactics and rejectionist ideology will be no match to Abu Mazen. For that reason, Abu Mazen must negotiate with Israel – the sooner the better.
Emulating the rhetoric of Hamas, as he has tried to since the Schalit deal and the return of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to the PA, will lead Abu Mazen nowhere. He can't compete with the Hamas on its own field. He must offer the Palestinian people something his Hamas rivals cannot: serious negotiations with Israel, which could lead to tangible results.
Of course, Abu Mazen may believe that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will hardly offer him what Olmert did. Considering he failed to give any reply to Olmert's peace plan, Abu Mazen can hardly protest now that he might not get the same from Netanyahu. Still, by not negotiating with Israel, Abu Mazen is losing his relative advantage to Hamas.
The writer is a lecturer in the graduate Diplomacy Program at Tel Aviv University, and has a doctorate in Modern History from Oxford University.