Gaza is a symbol of occupation, thanks to Israel
Israel's Pavlovian response to Palestinian reconciliation, which included the usual threats of boycott, is the result of the ingrained anxiety of people who no longer control the process
Israel's Pavlovian response to Palestinian reconciliation, which included the usual threats of boycott, is the result of the ingrained anxiety of people who no longer control the process. For five years, Israel has done everything to change the outcome of Hamas' watershed victory in the elections in the territories. It did not recognize the Hamas government or the unity government, and of course, it did not recognize the Hamas government that arose after that organization's brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Gaza became a synonym for Hamas; that is, for terror, and the West Bank stood for the land of unlimited possibilities. Israel made an enormous contribution toward building up Hamas into an institution, not only an organization. The cruel closure of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, turning Gaza into a battle zone and the saga of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, with Israel continuing to negotiate with Hamas while striking out against it - all this has transformed Gaza into a symbol of the occupation and a focus of international empathy.
Israel, in its diplomatic blindness, saw the product it helped manufacture as a huge diplomatic achievement. Its working assumption was that the split between Gaza and the West Bank would allow Israel to pursue the appearance of negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, while fighting another part of the Palestinian people in Gaza. Israel interpreted the political conflict between Abbas and Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza and Khaled Meshal in Damascus as an unsolvable ideological conflict and a reality in which, in Israel's thinking, Palestine is divided not only into two regions, but into two mutually hostile peoples. Israel tortures one side while celebrating with the other at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of a shopping center.
Israel has also had partners who helped it make its mistake. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's policy on Hamas, the antagonism between him and Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Iranian aid to Hamas strengthened the misconception that Israel could preserve this schism for its own benefit. Mubarak worked toward Palestinian reconciliation and put together a document that served as the basis for the current rapprochement, Syria supported reconciliation, and Abbas has not stopped talking about and trying to achieve it. But Israel still thinks that only Israel will decide when the two parts of the Palestinian people will unite.
Now, with this policy in its death throes, Israel is telling horror stories in which the Palestinian state becomes a Hamas state, an Iranian proxy and a focus of terror. It is also trying to say that this reconciliation will be the death of the peace process - the same process whose remains are already in the morgue.
These are empty threats. Palestinian terror existed before Hamas came into being, and Fatah has used terror without Hamas as its partner. The Palestinian leadership - with Hamas or without it - will not negotiate with Israel not because it will be a radical Islamic entity, but because it sees no chance of Israeli concessions and does not view Israel as a partner for peace. Israel is deluding itself and anyone still willing to listen to its wailing if it continues to declare that there will be no peace process because of reconciliation.
This self-delusion, and not Palestinian reconciliation, is the clear and present danger to the State of Israel. It draws its power from bygone chapters in history that document Israel's powerful position internationally, its moral voice and its good name as a peace-seeking nation. This self-delusion refuses to recognize the changing reality in the Middle East, the changing of the guard among leaders and peoples and the self-interested moves of Western powers that are longing for new partnerships in the Middle East to replace the ones that have disappeared. Israel is not included in that new address list. Its good name is being torn to shreds.
But Israel has a rare opportunity to rewind the film back five years - not only to understand that the two parts of the Palestinian people are one entity, but to correct the mistakes it made in 2006. It must deal with the entire Palestinian government, even if that government includes Hamas representatives. Israel can, of course, repeat its mistakes, but then Israel, and not the Palestinian state, will become a country that threatens its own citizens.