Is Hamas Our New Partner for Peace?

While Abbas has reached the conclusion that there is no point in conducting talks with Netanyahu's government, Hamas suddenly looks like a serious partner.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, left, on March 18, 2007.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, left, on March 18, 2007.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

So are or aren’t there negotiations with Hamas? Will there be a port in Gaza, or is it all a pipe dream? Turkey says, “They’re going for an overall agreement,” Hamas reports intensive dialogues. The Palestinian Authority is already accusing Hamas of an attempt to establish an independent state in Gaza, with Israel’s encouragement and Israel, as usual, flatly denies it. “There are no direct contacts, there are no contacts via other countries and there are no contacts using intermediaries,” declared the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday.

But there’s no need to be overly impressed by the firmness of the denial. Because even if at this very moment there are no contacts, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any “contacts” or that there won’t be any “contacts.” Such denials were also heard at the time of “no contacts” with Hamas in order to release captive soldier Gilad Shalit, and the various tahadiyehs (cease-fires), including the present one, did not appear from nowhere.

Ostensibly, not only is there no reason to deny negotiations with Hamas, but we should be excited at the very possibility and act to promote them. Negotiations that would lead to a long-term cease-fire serve the interests and the policy of the present government. Building a seaport in Gaza does not require withdrawal from the territories, recognition of a Palestinian state or granting civil rights to the 1,800,000 residents of the Gaza Strip. Economic rehabilitation of the Strip accords well with the idea of the “economic peace” that is unanimously supported by the government, and particularly by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

The Israel Defense Forces has long been urging an easing of the closure on Gaza and an increase in the transfer of goods to the Strip, and its opinion is being accepted and even implemented to a great extent. Hamas even passed the terror test successfully: It proved its ability to halt attacks against Israel, and when rockets were fired from its territory by rebel organizations, it acted immediately to stop and strike at its internal “terror nests.” The Islamic resistance movement finds itself in a bad place ideologically as well, since it is forced to maintain calm on the border with Israel and to woo Egypt, which is fighting against its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. Before Israel’s eyes a historic window of opportunity is opening. A great deal for next to nothing. Run and grab it.

There is no limit to irony. While PA President Mahmoud Abbas has reached the conclusion that there is no more point in conducting a diplomatic process with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas suddenly looks like a serious partner. If the reports of Abbas’ intention to visit Iran in October turn out to be correct, Israel can point to this visit as a final proof – as though Israel needed it – that Abbas is not a partner. His diplomatic burial will be guaranteed, and Hamas will then actually appear righteous, especially in light of its severance from Iran and its rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

Jordanian demonstrators shout anti-Israeli and American slogans behind a picture of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, in Amman, Jordan, Friday, Jan. 2, 2009.Credit: AP

So where’s the catch? After all, it’s impossible that we have been fortunate enough to get a partner after our own heart. It’s true that one little problem remains: Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people.

Even if it wanted to sign a diplomatic agreement with Israel – and it is vehemently opposed to that – Hamas has no public or political authority to do so. An agreement with Hamas, be it direct or indirect or diagonal, will not solve the Palestinian problem. It is not a substitute for withdrawal from the territories or the solution to the status of Jerusalem.

To a great extent it will be similar to the decision to withdraw from Gaza, because the withdrawal, which was very necessary and justified in terms of security, also aspired to remove the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem from the negotiating table. Gaza in exchange for the West Bank and Jerusalem, said the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the time. The rebuilding of Gaza and the construction of a port in exchange for settlements forever is what supporters of negotiations with Hamas now believe.

The bluff is repeating itself. An agreement with Hamas is good for the Israeli government, but it does not necessarily represent the interests of the State of Israel.

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