by Zalman Shoval
According to unconfirmed reports from Washington, the U.S. intends to recognize the Palestinian unity government when it is established, even if Hamas does not accept the Quartet's conditions (recognition of Israel, cessation of terror and adherence to past Israeli-Palestinian agreements). The official excuse will be that the Palestinian government will be one comprised of "technocrats," that is to say experts, not political figures. This argument is not exactly convincing, as half of the ministers will be appointed by Hamas, a group that the U.S. itself has defined as a terrorist organization. The practical result is that the U.S. will ipso facto become a dialogue partner with a terrorist government.
We do not know yet who the experts (experts in what?) will be in the Palestinian government, but it must be assumed that they will not deviate from the line Hamas dictates to them.
In 1991, Israel demanded that the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference not include official representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, but the U.S. chose to turn a blind eye to the fact that the members of the Palestinian delegation were receiving daily orders from the PLO headquarters in Tunis.
This time, Israel has decided not to play the game of false appearances, and it expected that the U.S. would take a similar position (Israel's demand would have been more credible and effective had all of its government ministers stood behind it). But, as mentioned before, it appears that Jerusalem's expectations on this matter will not be met by Washington.
"So why does Israel insist on rejecting Hamas?" some will ask. "At one time, it was also forbidden to talk with the PLO, and now it is a dialogue partner on everything." This is indeed true, but the PLO and Fatah accepted, at least outwardly, certain rules and commitments, particularly regarding terrorism and violence, that enabled the ban on talking with them to be lifted. Hamas, on the other hand, has never forsworn terrorism. If, on occasion, Hamas has offered a "hudna" or agreed to a temporary halt of violence against Israel, this was only after the Israeli military had dealt it heavy blows or was about to. Moreover, at the Wye River Conference in 1998, Israel said that for the Palestinian commitment to peace to earn at least minimal credibility, the Palestinians would have to cancel clauses in the Palestinian National Charter that denied Israel's right to exist and did not recognize the Jews as a people. Then-President Bill Clinton justifiably backed the Israeli demand, and the relevant clauses were annulled, at least in theory.
Israel thought President Barack Obama would follow that path and not have any contact, direct or indirect, with a Palestinian government that included Hamas unless it were to accept the Quartet's conditions and also cancel its jihadist charter that calls for Israel's destruction and is laced with anti-Semitic statements.
I will not go into the various theories regarding the Palestinian "reconciliation" or the doubts about the veracity or durability of this dubious move, but it is not inconceivable that this time Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders are striving for something more than just an appearance of unity.
It certainly may be that the move will set the needle in the direction of extremism, rather than moderation. Hamas officials have made it clear that they plan to follow the "Hezbollah model" from Lebanon. That is to say it will place a very limited role in civilian and administrative matters, but will reserve for itself total freedom of action as a "popular resistance organization." The implication is clear: gaining political legitimacy while maintaining the terror option.
The question remains as to whether Obama has internalized lessons from the mistake made by former President George W. Bush's administration (the pressure it put on Israel to agree to Palestinian elections in which Hamas took part) or from his own mistakes regarding the Arab Spring and his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama must not err again now in regard to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
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