Netanyahu Is Punishing Abbas by Strengthening Hamas

Representatives of the Quartet are to arrive in the region on Tuesday and will want to know if the Israeli government has accepted its September 23 outline.

People who accept Benjamin Netanyahu's explanation that the decision to rescue Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity in October 2011 was linked to the Arab Spring are exempt from reading what follows. For those who are of little faith, here is a possible solution to the riddle. Hint: It is hidden in the lead headline in Monday's Haaretz.

The story reported that those around Netanyahu, including his forum of eight senior ministers, decisively object to any gestures toward Mahmoud Abbas. The story also said that advisors to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were pressing him to punish the Palestinian president. What for, and why? Because the Fatah leader dared to turn to the UN with a request to recognize a Palestinian state that would live in peace alongside the State of Israel.

Netanyahu - Daniel Bar-On
Daniel Bar-On

How do you punish politicians who sin? Correct; you nurture their political rivals. And who is the main political rival of Fatah? Hamas, of course. And what is the most desirable tool when it comes to the Palestinian public? The release of hundreds of prisoners, including Israeli Arabs and residents of the eastern part of a "united" Jerusalem.

No, prime minister, the government ministers and advisors are not witless. They understand all too well that this punishment will hasten Abbas' political demise and dismantle the Palestinian Authority. Their response, according to the report in Haaretz, is that this isn't their fondest wish, but "it's not the end of the world" either.

No, not the end of the world; but Abbas leaving the scene and the closing down of his camp may bring an end to the troubles the world causes for Netanyahu's government. Representatives of the Quartet who are to arrive in the region on Tuesday and will want to know if the Israeli government has accepted its September 23 outline, including U.S. President Barack Obama's May 19th declaration (negotiations on the basis of 1967 borders and agreed on land swaps ). They will probably settle for a clever announcement by the spokesman that "Israel welcomes" it.

Until the very last moment, the prime minister hoped that the Palestinians would insist on pre-conditions (in Netanyahu's eyes, a demand to honor the Road Map, which requires freezing construction in the settlements, is one such pre-condition ).

But Netanyahu is convinced that it is impossible to trust the Arabs; Abbas has informed the Quartet that he accepts its plan. Despite Netanyahu's ceaseless efforts to do damage to Abbas, Abbas insists on maintaining cooperation in security matters with Israel and to forcefully suppress any attempt by Hamas to renew terror attacks. As the head of the Palestinian government, Salaam Fayad, said over the weekend that the Palestinian leadership did not expect anything in return from the Israelis.

One can gather the amount of faith they place in Netanyahu from their refusal to have any contact with him over the release of the 550 additional prisoners included in the Shalit deal. They recall that Netanyahu had previously promised to release prisoners in the wake of the Wye Agreement in 1998, and set free mostly thieves and detainees at the end of their jail terms.

The prime minister knows that Abbas won't remain in the corner for long. Obama told Netanyahu that during his last meeting with the Palestinian president, Abbas had said that if serious negotiations did not get underway in the coming months, he'd be going home. Before then, apparently next week, he'll meet with Khaled Meshal, head of Hamas's political wing, in an attempt to complete a reconciliation agreement and agree on elections in January.

Netanyahu doesn't need more than this; after all, Hamas is defined as a terror organization, and the Quartet rules saying that negotiations cannot be held with it are still in force - except of course in cases that serve Netanyahu's short-term interest.

The Shalit deal with Hamas is reminiscent of the disengagement from Gaza. Ariel Sharon wanted to punish Abbas for his nervy insistence on accepting the Road Map, and punished him with the entrance of Hamas into Gaza. Netanyahu's punishment for accepting the Quartet's plan will bring Hamas into Ramallah.

Who is an Israeli?

On Saturday morning, I joined a group of volunteers for the Road to Recovery headed by Yuval Roth, known among Palestinians as "the angel." The governor of Jenin, the directors of city hospitals and the families of patients helped by the volunteers during their stays in Israeli hospitals invited them on a visit to the city. At the entrance to the Jalama checkpost, signs clearly informed visitors that "This road leads to the continuation of Area A located under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Entrance into Area A by Israeli citizens is forbidden, endangers life and constitutes a criminal offense."

Because of some kind of hitch, my request to enter the area had not reached its goal. During the long wait for permission from the Israel Defense Forces' Spokesman's Office, I watched an endless convoy of cars with Israeli license plates crossing through the checkpost on the way to and from Jenin. The guards made do with a quick glance at the passengers' identity cards and sent them on their way. A guard explained to me that since all of them were Israeli Arabs, they did not need permits. I consoled myself that I had just happened to experience a tiny taste of what is routine for Palestinians at checkposts.

The next day, I asked the IDF Spokesman's Office to offer Haaretz readers an official explanation of the rules about crossing through check points into Area A.

Here's what they said: "Beyond the letter of the law, and based on its assessment of the security situation, the IDF permits entry of Israeli Arabs into Area A for family visits and commerce. If an Israeli citizen wants to enter Area A, he can make an official request that will be considered, inter alia, according to the assessment of security conditions."

According to IDF policy, is a resident of Umm al-Fahm not an Israeli citizen? Are "assessments of security conditions" really tailored to the nationality of a candidate for kidnapping, or to his religion or skin color?