Israel’s knee-jerk reaction to Palestinian unity

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas's Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

In response to news of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and almost every major minister in his cabinet issued statements that slammed the Palestinian move.

“Abbas has chosen Hamas and not peace. Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace,” Netanyahu said in a press release.

A word on Netanyahu’s “Hamas vs peace” argument:

If one understands Palestinian politics then one knows that regardless how comprehensive a deal Mahmoud Abbas signed with Israel as PA Chairman, without a unity government with Hamas that agreement would be limited in its scope and outright rejected by the current leadership in the Gaza Strip.

In short, it would not be an agreement with any long term benefits for Israel.

The most beneficial step in the name of peace is for the Palestinians get on the same page and negotiate with Israel directly. I am not saying that this latest manifestation of Palestinian unity will work, or that it can be reached even in the near future, but this is what must happen in order for a final status agreement to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians. This should have been an Israeli precondition to talks nine months ago, for the sake of both sides.

What was the goal of the Netanyahu government at the outset of the latest round of negotiations if Fatah and Hamas were divided? To maintain a status quo where one arrangement was being struck with Abbas and a separate arrangement was being struck with Hamas? If so, this was a dangerous and crippling strategy.

Rather than casting Mahmoud Abbas as someone who abandoned peace for the sake of Hamas, Netanyahu could actually acknowledge that this was something that should have happened prior to negotiations. That it was something that should have happened years ago. That, ultimately, Palestinian unity – though strategically not as convenient for Israeli negotiators – is better for the prospects of peace in the long term.

And for those who believe that this is simply going to open the door for Hamas to expand its power in the West Bank: at least then Israel would no longer have to employ a confused dual policy.

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric that Israel can’t negotiate with actors who call for its destruction. It has repeatedly in the past, and it will again in the future. In the last five years of Netanyahu-led governments, Israel has managed to negotiate several cease-fires, prisoner exchanges, and the release of Gilad Shalit all with Hamas.

It is understandable why Israeli politicians are skeptical. They should be. Preconditions for the continuation of talks should be levied. But as long as Palestinian leadership is divided there will be no peace. Why not admit this simple fact?

Because that would also admit the last nine months of negotiations were a farce.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel