A Vital Palestinian Discussion

There is only one formula likely to address the Qassams: dialogue between Abbas and Hamas, reestablishing the national unity government and recognizing it as the executive branch.

Again, a light tingle of excitement runs down your back when you hear the word hudna, which the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, is proposing. Some of us have run to dust off the slogan "talk with Hamas," as if a wonder drug had been found for the Qassams. Haven't we been told that the people firing the Qassams are from Islamic Jihad, and that's why we killed them? So why the talk about Hamas all of a sudden?

True, we later saw an impressive film about how easily a Qassam is assembled, by Hamas members actually. And what about the Halas family in Gaza, which controls several areas there? And what about the independent contractors who fire Qassams? Of all these, with whom should Israel be speaking?

The seed of trouble was planted when Israel boycotted the Hamas government and later the national unity government that included Hamas and Fatah. Instead of recognizing the government, any Palestinian government, and regarding it as an executive branch in the war against terror, Israel stuck to its ideology of "recognizing Israel" as a precondition for any dialogue, including dialogue about sewage, water, electricity and terrorism.

Everything was tied up in a single, impossible package. The result was immediately apparent. About sewage and electricity in the West Bank we talk with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. About terrorism, perhaps we can talk with Hamas. About the Qassams, with Islamic Jihad. About the return of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, with the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and bits of other organizations.

Hamas is not a partner for Israel in the discourse about a peace accord, the demarcation of borders or the status of Jerusalem. It also does not need to be the partner for dialogue about a hudna or cessation of terror. A Palestinian government is the only partner.

However, as long as Abbas himself does not speak with Hamas, he is also not a partner for dialogue about stopping the firing of Qassams. There is only one formula likely to address the Qassams: dialogue between Abbas and Hamas, reestablishing the national unity government and recognizing this government as the executive branch, even if it will not be a partner for diplomatic negotiations, at least at this stage.

Abbas has good and clear reasons to resume a dialogue with Hamas: restoring the situation in Gaza to where it was before June, when Hamas took over the strip; returning control to unified security forces (of Fatah and Hamas); and an apology from Hamas.

Hamas' leaders, Haniyeh and Khaled Meshal, are ready to meet these conditions, but they have some conditions of their own: the release of Hamas prisoners for the release of Fatah prisoners, the allocation of positions and jobs based on the Mecca agreement last February, the formation of a national unity government and an agreement to conduct a national dialogue about the Palestine Liberation Organization's structure.

This is a vital internal Palestinian discussion. If it succeeds, it is liable to produce a united Palestinian leadership that would be tougher in diplomatic negotiations, but would carry responsibility and legitimacy in managing the people's affairs.

Any separate Israeli talk with Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any small Palestinian organization would grant them political power vis-a-vis Fatah and the PA, and make the PA hostage to anyone knowing how to mix potassium nitrate and sugar to assemble a Qassam.

A hudna is something desirable and even essential, but the hudna must be reached with the PA as the representative of all the Palestinian people and not just with whomever controls Gaza.

In this way, whoever violates the hudna on the Palestinian side would know he is not acting against an agreement with Israel (which would grant him legitimacy) but against a broad Palestinian agreement. If Israel believes it can conduct negotiations with Hamas about a hudna, why shouldn't it make an additional effort and persuade Abbas to talk with Hamas and reach an agreement with it?

Israel, on its part, would not lose a thing if it recognizes a Palestinian government with Hamas and Islamic Jihad based on the principles agreed between the sides in Mecca.

On the contrary, it would be ridiculous if Israel speaks to Hamas about a hudna, but refuses to recognize it as an essential part of ensuring its security or as part of the PA's executive branch. Israel would have difficulty resolving this contradiction and would do best to avoid it.