In Israel's intelligence community there is a fascinating race taking place these days: Its members are competing to see who can give the political echelon a list with the greatest number of problems posed by the Palestinian national unity government. Who is the expert who will be the first to prove that the new government's guidelines do not really include a Hamas recognition of the State of Israel? And all this to stock the emergency depots of the politicians with fresh ammunition to use to shoot down the dangerous political initiative of the neighbors. The last thing we need now is for those problematic Europeans, not to mention our American friends, to find a positive change in the Palestinian position.
No doubt basic guidelines are a fundamental commodity of utmost importance. Take, for example, the guidelines of the Kadima-Labor-Shas coalition government. Four months ago, all three signed an agreement including the following statements: "The government will aspire to bring about the shaping of the permanent borders of the state as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, and as a democratic state. It will carry this out through negotiations with the Palestinians, which it will conduct on the basis of mutual recognition, agreements that have been signed, the principles of the road map, and an end to the violence and a disarming of the terrorist organizations."
It was also stated there that "if the Palestinians do not manage to conduct themselves as mentioned [above] in the near future, the government will act even in the absence of negotiations ... on the basis of a broad national acceptance in Israel and a deep understanding with Israel's friends in the world, and foremost among them the United States... Israeli territory, whose borders will be determined by the government, will require a curtailment of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria."
Regarding the socioeconomic section of the guidelines, the coalition leadership expressed its commitment to "narrow social gaps," and even said that it would "consider the possibility of reducing the defense budget, from the 2007 fiscal year onward."
Two attacks by Islamic organizations, in the south and in the north, sufficed to transform these guiding principles into meaningless bits of paper. "Shaping the permanent borders of the state as a Jewish state" in negotiations with the Palestinians was, and remains, a jumble of dead letters. The unilateral convergence plan has already been declared dead. By the way, the political guidelines section of the previous government also began with an important declaration, according to which "the government believes that direct negotiations is the right means on which to base a relationship of trust between the two sides in order to further peace."
Indeed, reality is much more powerful than any political platform. So is the reality in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. A severe economic plight has been translated into disappointment with the government and it is forcing Hamas to swallow a policy that until recently was as blasphemous for it as eating pork during Ramadan. For example, the mention of the Arab League decision of March 2002, which calls for normalizing relations with Israel and for an "agreed" solution (with Israel, according to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) to the refugee problem.
The test of the political platform of the Palestinian national unity government does not involve the aspirations of Israel's unity government, nor the expectations of the international community. The possibility that the elected Hamas officials will evaporate is as likely as the possibility that, with a little more pressure, the movement will recognize Israel as a Jewish state - a clause that does not exist in former written agreements with the PLO.
Therefore, the first question in this test needs to be the degree to which the new stance of the movement constitutes an improvement in relation to the previous Hamas positions. The second question must be to examine the differences between Hamas-domestic (Gaza Strip and West Bank), and Hamas-external (Damascus). The third question is whether the alternative - perpetuating the diplomatic freeze and a further deterioration of an already chaotic situation in the territories - best serves Israel's interests. The truth is that opting for this alternative may cause the situation to deteriorate further.
The pressures of Israel and the international community forced Ismail Haniyeh and his colleagues to bend, and paved the way for a Palestinian national unity government. Further pressure, exceeding the limits of the Palestinians' flexibility, may break their backs and give rise to an extremist national-religious union.
What is most important for us, however, is to be able to tell the world that, thank heaven, we have no partner.
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