Israel is twisting like a contortionist when it comes to the deal with Hamas. At present, the framework is set to include an unsigned agreement on the terms for a temporary calm. Then, if everything goes according to plan, Israel will consent to a temporary six-month calm.
What are the terms for the first calm and what are the terms for the second calm? Is the agreement with Egypt or with Hamas? Will Egypt guarantee the implementation of the unsigned agreement? How will the deal for the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit fit in to all of this? Is calm a condition? After all, Israel and Hamas were negotiating a deal for Shalit's release when calm was still a long way off.
To the perplexed man on the street, these questions are of no concern. He wants things to be quiet. And he wants Shalit to be brought home. And really, all that's necessary for that to happen is for Israel to announce one day, say today, that it is holding its fire and putting and end to the targeted killings and the incursions into Gaza, and that this will be the reality as long as Hamas does not fire rockets of any sort.
Israel needs to say that it is willing to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit and lift its siege on Gaza, on the condition that Egypt properly oversees the border crossings. That is all. And another small suggestion: Israel should state its willingness to cooperate with a Palestinian national-unity government, one made up of both Hamas and Fatah representatives.
Two years and four months ago, Hamas won a large majority in the elections for the Palestinian parliament. Israel very publicly boycotted Hamas. A year later, in March 2007, the Palestinian Authority instituted a national-unity government, which included a Hamas contingent. That government was immediately boycotted, along with anyone who tried to engage in diplomatic ties with it.
Let the Palestinians know that while there are those who elect the leadership, there are also those who determine who will belong to that leadership.
Exactly one year ago, Hamas showed both Israel and Fatah that while some people think they can determine who will belong to the leadership, others will seize power by force and replace that leadership.
Gaza fell under Hamas' control and Israel hastened to clutch Mahmoud Abbas' coattails.
The West Bank will serve as a model for the Palestinians. Israel has established an alternative to the reign of radical gangs that rage freely all over the Gaza Strip.
And so Olmert's arm barely left Abbas' shoulder, which it held firmly in a hug. And Tzipi Livni's cheeks blushed with Abbas' kisses. George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice even set a wedding date: the end of 2008. Except the groom turned out to be suspected of criminal activity and the bride won't let go of the dowry. Any of it.
Worse, it turned out that no agreement by Ramallah and Jerusalem would bring calm to Sderot and Nir Oz. A semi-peace is also semi-war.
Abbas realizes this as well as anybody. He is now working toward reconciliation with Hamas. This could leave Israel standing alone under the chuppah, because Abbas wants to use the time Israel needs to make up its mind about who should be premier for some Palestinian home repairs. He's not breaking any rules, since Israel itself is negotiating with Hamas, albeit indirectly. But these are negotiations nonetheless, just like Israel's negotiations with Syria and Hezbollah. They are not conducted at the diplomatic level, but they are certainly security negotiations. They include terms and maps and mutual agreement. And there's also a mediator, Egypt, to relay messages and revise drafts.
And yet, astonishingly, Israel does not recognize Hamas and Hamas does not recognize Israel. The two parties are engaged in dialogue - indirect, of course - as though they were both countries, and not a country and an organization.
That is the paradox Israel created when it refused to recognize the first Hamas government and the national-unity government. But maybe Israel will receive a second chance, as absolute sages often do.
If Hamas and Fatah manage to reconcile, Israel will be faced with the exact same dilemma. Will it again boycott the united Palestinian government, after Israel itself engaged in such close talks with Hamas? After it realized who was responsible for the safety of the residents of Sderot and the government's public standing?
It would be better to take off the blindfold and stop bothering the public with explanations about "understandings," "indirect agreements" and "temporary accords." It's better to sign an agreement with the Palestinian national unity government than with Hamas. It may delay peace, but it will make the calm more stable.
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