Listen to Hamas
Israel must recognize any government established with Palestinian approval - even if its members belong to Hamas or other factions.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the ousted prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, described "the territories of 1967" as the territory of the Palestinian state "at this time." He told Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass that the Hamas government had previously made it clear that it was willing to accept a Palestinian state that followed the 1967 borders and to offer Israel a long-term hudna, or truce, if Israel recognized the Palestinians' national rights, as Haaretz reported Sunday.
At first glance, it appears Haniyeh was not saying anything fundamentally different from what he said two years ago. But Haniyeh's comments are imbued with special significance against the backdrop of recent events in the Gaza Strip and the exchanges of fire that put the current lull at risk, along with the presidential election results in the United States and Khaled Meshal's statements that Hamas is willing to negotiate with the new American government. This is also the case in light of the efforts to foster a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and the nearly completed term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israeli government remains staunch in its position that it will not hold political negotiations with Hamas - even though it is conducting indirect talks with Hamas that brought about a lull and are intended to lead to the release of Gilad Shalit. For its part, Hamas is not offering to recognize Israel or make peace with it. A long-term hudna and the establishment of a state along the 1967 lines "at this time" are the most to which the organization is willing to commit.
It would appear that a country aspiring to reach a comprehensive political agreement with the PA that will end the conflict cannot make do with the positions presented by Haniyeh. But it is too easy to dismiss his comments or stick to existing positions. The cumbersome and slow political negotiations with Abbas, and the Israeli foot-dragging, even when it comes to minimal humanitarian gestures toward the Palestinians, are not testaments to Israel's sincerity. The main achievement of this policy was the mobilization of international support for the Israeli position against Hamas, without giving practical specifications for a solution.
Even in the absence of a peace agreement, Israel has great interest in normal life on the Palestinian side and the possibility of conducting a practical dialogue and engaging in genuine cooperation with the Palestinian leadership on economic and security issues. Even right-wing leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Begin speak about an "economic peace" as a bypass road to political peace. But for such cooperation to work, Palestinian leadership is needed that represents all the Palestinian people and enjoys widespread legitimacy and authority.
To achieve this, the Palestinians must have a national reconciliation, and Israel must recognize any government established with Palestinian approval - even if its members belong to Hamas or other factions. The Israeli illusion that the West Bank will be able to continue to be calm while Gaza is blockaded and shelled will end up being shattered.
None of this is an alternative to political negotiations or concessions that Israel and the Palestinians must make to reach a final-status agreement. But Israeli recognition of any Palestinian government that is established is liable to lay a practical and stable foundation for cooperation, and perhaps even for deeper confidence that will advance the political process. Israel must therefore turn an attentive ear to the statements coming out of Gaza, and reexamine its policy.