Hamas is an organization that employs ruthless terror and believes in an armed struggle whose declared aim is the destruction of Israel. Israel does not and cannot have a dialogue or any exchanges with such a group. Yes, you make peace with your enemies, but with enemies desiring peace, and Hamas is not that. This Israeli position is both justified and rational, and if we act wisely, we can rally broad international support behind it.
But there's a long way between such a position and the government's sweeping and irrational response to the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The prime minister's dramatic announcement to the nation less than two hours after the first news of the signing of the rapprochement deal was out of place and reflected a lack of composure, an inability to withstand pressure, and a lack of judgment. The agreement with Hamas, despite its seriousness, cannot serve as an excuse for cutting off all ties with all Palestinian decision-makers.
Israel can demand that the world not talk to Hamas and the members of the Palestinian government representing Hamas, but it cannot demand that there be no communication with those who talk to Hamas, or even those who sign agreements with it. Even after the reconciliation agreement, if it is ever implemented, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not Hamas.
Abbas recognizes Israel, is committed to the agreements signed with it, and reiterated upon the signing of the reconciliation deal his wish to reach a peace accord with Israel, even if some of the conditions are unacceptable to him. Abbas rejects terrorism, has close security coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, and declares that even if all Palestinian efforts fail, he strongly opposes a violent intifada. We are allowed to express reservations about the reconciliation agreement with a terrorist organization and to criticize it, but adopting a policy of sweeping refusal to talk with any Palestinian authority would be a serious error.
Does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really want to take Israel 20 years back to a period when it did not talk at all with the Palestinians? In the past, Israel distinguished between Ismail Haniyeh's government, which it boycotted, and Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, with whom it conducted a dialogue. Netanyahu's demand of Abbas to choose between Hamas and Israel cannot stand and will lead Israel to a dead end and a diplomatic defeat.
On the right there have already been shouts of joy - there is no partner, there is no one to talk to, we can now embark on a new construction boom in the settlements. Ministers have proposed the annexation of Judea and Samaria, something even Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir did not do. Coalition whip Zeev Elkin even told the nation that the idea of a Palestinian state is buried. But this is silly talk, and it's hard to imagine that the prime minister believes that anyone around the world will buy any of this.
The reconciliation agreement did not erase the need for an Israeli diplomatic initiative but made it stronger; it brings home the urgency of adopting such an initiative. The prime minister needs to act rationally and responsibly. Israel needs a well-prepared combination of adamant opposition to Hamas and a practical diplomatic initiative that is both courageous and credible. Only then will it be able to win its difficult diplomatic struggle.