One can imagine how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' knees must have knocked when he heard that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would no longer conduct negotiations with him if Hamas joins the Palestinian government. No doubt, he thought that everything will now collapse with a loud boom. Demarcation of the border will be put in the deep freeze; the trucks evacuating Israel Defense Forces bases from the territories will slam on the brakes; farewell ceremonies for IDF commanders will be canceled; settlers who have packed their bags will go back home; and the Palestinian National Orchestra will fold up the sheet music of "Hatikva," which it had planned to play in honor of the signing of the peace agreement.
The Middle Eastern kaleidoscope is changing shape, shaking up reality at a crazy pace. But Israel is stuck in the book of Ecclesiastes: What was is what will be. Once again, Hamas is running Palestinian policy, and Abbas will get it in the neck.
The Palestinian state was on the verge of obtaining recognition from the United Nations, but that was blocked by the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, how is it possible to recognize half a state? The Oslo Accords and every subsequent agreement stressed that Gaza and the West Bank are two parts of the same entity, and as long as one part is run by a terrorist organization that doesn't recognize Israel, it's impossible to recognize a Palestinian state.
But now, thanks to Syria's murderousness, along with help from Egypt and support from Jordan, Hamas is reexamining the map of the region's political topography and changing course: no more armed struggle against Israel, but a popular struggle, meaning demonstrations and civil disobedience, as well as a willingness to drop its previous preconditions for joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, an understanding that it must recognize the agreements the PLO has signed and a return to the ballot box as the accepted method of achieving political victory.
Hamas cannot be more righteous than the Muslim Brotherhood, and if the Brotherhood in Egypt is participating in the political game - and winning it - then so can Hamas.
Six years have passed since the last election in the territories, in which Hamas won a sweeping victory. That election derived its authority from the Oslo Accords, which the PLO signed with Israel, and the U.S. administration was the driving force behind it. But since then, the administration has repeatedly rued its democratic aspirations, and together with Israel, it boycotted the electoral results. Even Hamas' willingness to cooperate with Israel, albeit only on the administrative level, was pushed away with a 10-foot pole. "Hamas or Abbas" became the diplomatic slogan - and an excellent excuse for Israel to abandon any serious diplomatic process.
The illusion that has been peddled ever since is that it is possible to sign a separate peace with the Palestinian Authority while continuing to bomb Gaza - to allow the Palestinians to open department stores and discotheques in Ramallah while strangling 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. The split between Fatah and Hamas was seen as irreversible, something that could be relied on to perpetuate the diplomatic freeze. Fatahland and Hamastan were etched into the Israeli consciousness as two states for two peoples, the people of the West Bank and the people of Gaza, rather than as a struggle between rival political leaderships. The possibility that the Palestinians would view this split as an anomaly never even entered Israelis' heads.
But things change. Hamas and Fatah are reconciling - not because of Israel's beaux yeux [how it will look], but because it is in the Palestinians' interest, and new regional circumstances laid the groundwork for this to come about. Israel can either ignore this development, wage all-out war against the reconciliation or try to correct the diplomatic error it made half a dozen years ago.
There's no need to hold your breath. Israel has already announced its choice. But there's no law (yet ) against playing "what if," so it's permissible to think about what would have happened had Israel instead announced that it welcomes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal's statements, hopes Hamas will turn into a legitimate political party and agrees to negotiate with any elected Palestinian government that is willing to negotiate with it. Such a government, established on the basis of a Palestinian consensus, would in any case be acceptable to most countries in the world, making Israel's refusal to recognize it irrelevant.
It's also permissible to wonder: Will Israel refuse contacts with an Egyptian government established by the Muslim Brotherhood? Will it abrogate the peace treaty with Jordan should the Hashemite king grant sanctuary to Hamas' leadership? And if not, why should it boycott the Palestinian Authority?
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