Palestinian reconciliation is good news for Mideast peace
What do they have in common - the hawks of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; his bodyguard, Defense Minister Ehud Barak; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Shimon Peres ? They all threw a fit over the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
The protest from the Palestinian rejectionist front is obvious; the Egyptian document is Hamas' deed of surrender. It obligates the militant organization to accept the authority of the security forces subordinate to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, without giving it any purchase in the political arena.
From Israel's perspective, the agreement appears to be too good for Hamas political head Khaled Meshal to sign.
So why were Israeli politicians who purport to be peace-loving statesmen so quick to go after Abbas? In the worst case, they realize, the agreement puts paid to the government's claim that Abbas "represents only half of the Palestinian people." If the conditions that Abbas set are observed - "one authority, one law, one gun [army]" - this could ruin the main mantra of the Israeli right: "We left Gaza and got Qassam rockets in return."
The right, knowing that internal Palestinian reconciliation could expedite international recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, intentionally depicts the unity move as anti-Israel. A Fatah-Hamas accord is likely to cool down the Gaza border, but the right is consciously heightening panic by raising the specter of "Qassams in Judea and Samaria."
In the less-than-worst (or perhaps worse than "worst" ) case, Netanyahu, Barak and Peres did not bother to read the agreement nor wanted to hear Abbas' clear explication. The document specifies that the Palestinian provisional unity government will only be authorized to deal with the unification and operation of the security forces, the restoration of buildings and infrastructure damaged during Operation Cast Lead and preparations for the election scheduled for May 2012.
Abbas has repeatedly stressed that it was the Palestine Liberation Organization that has signed treaties with Israel since the Oslo Accords, and that the government of technocrats it will appoint will not be able to prevent him from negotiating with the Netanyahu government on the basis of the 1967 borders, territorial exchanges, an agreed solution to the refugee problem and a moratorium on construction in the settlements and in East Jerusalem for a period of three months. Thus, Hamas recognition of the conditions put forth by the Quartet, which include honoring all previous agreements with Israel, is all but meaningless.
If the leaders of the state and their loyal servant in the President's Residence did read the text of the reconciliation agreement, they did not delve into the conditions that made it possible. Middle East expert Matti Steinberg, currently a visiting scholar at Princeton, would be happy to explain to them that the text is the very same one submitted to Hamas months ago - only its context has changed. Steinberg, who has advised several Shin Bet security service chiefs on Palestinian affairs, could refer them to the loud, pointed criticism voiced by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Islamic scholar of the Muslim Brotherhood - Hamas' big sister - of the massacre of Sunni Muslims by Syria's Alawite regime.
The ground is trembling in Syria. Bashar Assad, the patron of Meshal and his colleagues, has become a clone of Muammar Gadhafi in the eyes of the world. Signing the reconciliation agreement is the price paid by the Hamas refugees from Damascus for the trip to Cairo. The decision to open the gates of Rafah, like the pressure on Hamas to sign the treaty, reflect Egypt's desire to create a context that will enable the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel; it will obviate the planned flotilla to Gaza and hurt the tunnel trade that funds Hamas forces in Gaza.
If Israel causes the reconciliation to fail, this would perpetuate the violence along the border with Gaza. Injury to the agreement would rock the delicate relationship being formed with the new regime in Cairo and improve the position of Iran.
The reconciliation agreement and the closing of ranks in the occupied territories are the best news possible for seekers of peace - on both sides of the Green Line. I only hope that Hamas does not get cold feet at the last minute, and that it honors both the spirit and the letter of the agreement.