Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Hamas is not going away," Haaretz, February 5, 2007.

The terrible disturbances unfolding in the Gaza Strip, the killings of members of the security organizations of both Fatah and Hamas, the lack of control of the twin leaders - Mahmoud Abbas on one hand and Ismail Haniyeh on the other - are too easily being called "civil war." This is a term that apparently offers Israel refuge from the need to act on the diplomatic front. However, Israel has never needed excuses. With or without Palestinian infighting, Israel has usually said that it has no partner on the Palestinian side, irrespective of whether Yasser Arafat, Abbas or Haniyeh were in power. Once more we should treat the claim of there being "an absence of [Palestinian] leadership" and the excuse of the "fighting in the territories" with skepticism.

During the past year, a new political reality emerged, both in the territories and in Israel, which the Quartet refuses to acknowledge. Hamas, not Fatah won the elections, and Hamas is the one that has a hold on the Palestinian institutions of government, while Fatah is behaving as a rebel movement that refuses to accept its defeats. Lately, Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, considered moderates, recognize the fact that the general embargo on the Palestinian Authority is not only ineffective in altering this political reality - it contributes to dangerous developments that may have an influence on them.

It appears that Hamas also recognizes the fact that purely ideological views cannot serve a political organization that is trying to rally broad public support. Therefore, Hamas is prepared to relinquish, to a certain degree, control over all senior Palestinian government positions; Khaled Meshal murmured that "Israel is a fact"; the political statements of Hamas have made it clear that it aspires to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders; and now there is a Saudi/Egyptian effort to convince Hamas to adopt a moderate formula regarding the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

On the other hand, it still appears to Israel and the United States that playing the old game - according to which Israel, if it wishes, can bolster or weaken Abbas - is the one that will bring about the desired political result. As if the transfer of $100 million from Israel, or $86 million from the U.S., or the deliveries of arms to forces loyal to Abbas, will result in a strategic change in the PA. It is sufficient to hear the strong denials of Abbas regarding the news of the weapons transfers to appreciate the kind of embarrassment that this Israeli policy is causing him, and the position of lack of credibility in which it places him.

Instead of constantly trying to decide which Israeli manipulation will work best, the government should immediately and vigorously state that the country adopts the Arab League summit initiative, and that it is willing to negotiate over its basic points with any authorized Palestinian party. At the same time, it should state that it would be willing to cooperate with any Palestinian government on issues that are related to essential services and concern the rehabilitation of civilian infrastructures. To this end there is no need for Hamas to recognize Israel, or vice versa - only to appreciate the humanitarian needs of a population that has been transformed into a hostage.

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