In his announcement of the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians nine months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained he had set two goals: “To prevent the creation of a binational state between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the Jordan [River], which endangers the future of the Jewish state,” and the prevention of the establishment of “an additional terrorist state under Iranian patronage.” On Thursday, Netanyahu announced the ending of the talks in response to the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
The Israeli decision, which was accompanied by highly publicized “fury” at the Palestinian Authority, is a strategic mistake. The agreement signed in the Gaza Strip is first and foremost an internal Palestinian matter — exactly the way an extreme right-wing faction like Habayit Hayehudi joining the government is an internal Israeli matter. But if it is carried out, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas could actually increase the chance of peace.
Israelis tend complain that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas represents only about half of his people. Now, it is possible that he will become a pan-Palestinian leader and therefore also a more serious partner for Israel. Hamas’ willingness to join the Palestinian government headed by Abbas also heralds the acceptance of his path, the way of diplomatic negotiations and the abandonment of the military struggle.
Netanyahu has held negotiations with Hamas in the past, both in the case of the deal to release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and also for the 2008 ceasefire in Gaza, and the present renouncing of any contact with the organization is tainted with hypocrisy. Hamas joined Fatah, Fatah did not join Hamas, and Israel should have advanced the process in hope — as cautious as it may be — not frozen the talks.
But the ending of the negotiations has put the ball in Netanyahu’s court with a more serious question: What does he intend to do now so as to prevent the realization of the threat he warned about, of a binational state?
The public denouncements of Abbas as refusing peace will not save Israel from the danger to its future, which is only getting worse. If Netanyahu rules out dialogue with the united Palestinian Authority he must present an alternative plan to reach the goal he set with the opening of the talks. Continuation of the freeze and the acceleration of the settlements will only bring the realization of his warning closer.
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