In Tunisia, Egypt, the Gulf states and even Syria, citizens are prepared to give up their lives to sanctify democracy. The United States and Europe are working hand in hand to topple the ruler of Libya, Muammar Gadhafi, and to open the way to a democratic regime. While all this is happening, one small country in the Middle East is refusing to recognize the right of one small nation to choose its leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is following in the footsteps of his predecessors who demanded of the Palestinians that they hold democratic elections and the day after they did, when it turned out the Israeli government didn't like the results, it boycotted the elected government. What's that word they use? They delegitimized the Palestinian government. Netanyahu is now threatening that if President Mahmoud Abbas joins Hamas in a unity government - until the next election - Israel will stop the peace negotiations (incidentally, how do you stop something that doesn't exist? ).
What would we have said had Abbas announced, the day after Avigdor Lieberman's speech at the UN, that he would not conduct negotiations with a prime minister whose deputy and foreign minister has declared that talk about a permanent status agreement is all bluff and the occupation will continue another 20 years, if not more? Would the prime minister ask permission from Abbas to bring into his coalition the National Union faction - a faction opposed to the evacuation of even one wilted plant in a flowerpot from one outpost built on the privately-owned land of a Palestinian refugee?
President Barack Obama and the U.S. partners in the quartet will find it hard to ignore the pressure from the Palestinian street on the Palestinian Authority ruler to unite the ranks. If Abbas reaches understandings with Hamas on the founding principles of a unity government, which do not contradict the Oslo agreements, Israel will not be able to stand in his way.
When Netanyahu declared he was prepared to recognize an independent Palestinian state, he must certainly have taken into account that in a sovereign state the parliament is the only factor that makes the laws, including the election laws. Does Netanyahu believe he can demand that the Egyptians or the Jordanians prevent the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in their elections, or not include them in their government?
True, Hamas is a religious organization that does not recognize the right of the Jews to a state of their own, and it is a great pity the wastrel Fatah politicos lost power to them in the elections of January 2006. It is a great pity Ariel Sharon did not hand Gaza over to Abbas as a down-payment on a permanent status agreement. It is a great pity that in June 2007, their police lost the battle for the Gaza Strip.
But this is spilled milk. The only way to establish the rule of the moderate secular stream in the territories, to afford legitimacy to Abbas and to reunite the Gaza Strip and the West Bank runs through the ballot box. Israel cannot prevent elections in the territories, but it is within its ability to influence their outcome in a decisive way.
Thus, for example, the interview Netanyahu granted last week to CNN is a free public service announcement for Hamas. The prime minister confirmed its claim that there is no Israeli partner for a peaceful two-state solution. Netanyahu said seven Israeli prime ministers have tried to reach peace with the Palestinians since the Oslo agreements (he counted himself, twice ), but Yasser Arafat and Abbas refused to make the necessary compromises.
And what are the compromises Netanyahu proposed in that interview-public service announcement? No to the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations, no to full Palestinian sovereignty (Israeli control of the Jordan Valley ), no to any partition of East Jerusalem and no to an agreed-upon solution of the refugee problem. What yes? Yes to Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and yes to expansion of the settlements.
Let us suppose Netanyahu punishes the Palestinian Authority for the reconciliation with Hamas. Let us suppose he sends his factotum, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to shut down the ballot boxes. What will happen in a bit more than half a year from now when more than 150 countries vote in the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and demands a just solution to the refugee problem?
Apparently Netanyahu, who dressed up as a leader at Bar-Ilan, believes every day is Purim.