As someone who wants the world to pressure Israel into ending the occupation, who hopes the UN recognizes Palestine in September, and who roots for Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, I say their agreement Wednesday to form a unity government with Hamas was a blunder. It was a blunder even before Hamas leaders in Gaza denounced America’s killing of the “holy warrior” Osama Bin Laden.
Hamas is a dead end to the Palestinians’ drive for independence because Hamas can’t reach a peace deal with Israel, and reaching a peace deal with Israel is the only way a Palestinian state can be born. Optimists are saying maybe Hamas will become more moderate, but all the signs since the pact was initialed last week point in the opposite direction. Since then, Hamas leaders have reiterated their refusal to negotiate with Israel, they’ve called on the Palestinian Authority to retract its 1993 recognition of Israel, and again, that was before Bin Laden’s killing provoked them to outrage at “the United States policy of destruction.”
For the last couple of years, optimists have been picking out statements made by Hamas leaders to Western interlocutors as evidence that they want to negotiate, that they’ll agree to a long-term cease-fire with Israel within its pre-’67 borders. But even if you disregard everything else we know about Hamas and take these diplomatic statements seriously, which Hamasnik has ever shown the slightest flexibility on the demand that millions of Palestinian refugees be allowed to move to Israel proper? Or that the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Mt. of Olives cemetery and the rest of Jerusalem’s “holy basin” come under full Palestinian sovereignty? Or that all 500,000 Israelis living over the Green Line be uprooted, not just the 100,000 living far over it?
Even when talking to Jimmy Carter, no Hamasnik has ever given an inch on right of return, Jerusalem or land swaps. So even if you isolate a few remarks spoken when they were on their best behavior, take them as true and forget everything else the leaders of Hamas ever said or did, how can even the most optimistic observer see them reaching a peace agreement with any Israeli government?
And I haven’t even mentioned their luridly anti-Semitic charter.
Maybe Hamas will change. Maybe Kach will turn into Peace Now, too, but until such time, I, as a peacenik, would oppose Kach’s becoming the co-leader of an Israeli government, so by the same token I oppose Hamas’s becoming the co-leader of the Palestinian government.
I know – I’m not a Palestinian, it’s their choice, not mine. But I’m not saying the Palestinians don’t have the right to make Hamas their leaders, or co-leaders, I’m saying that this move, which indeed came by popular demand, was really stupid and damaging. It set back the cause of Palestinian independence, it made the occupation that much harder to dislodge, and the only people who’ll benefit from it are the rejectionists on both sides.
What kills me is that until a week ago, the cause of Palestinian independence was on such a roll. Palestinian Authority leaders Abbas and Fayyad were the darlings of the West, the Netanyahu government was in the dog house, it was understood by everyone but the Republican Party that Israel was the side that had to be pressured the most. And with the UN vote getting closer, the pressure was building.
But now? A lot of steam has just escaped, a great deal of momentum has just been lost. Hamas’s condemnations of the Bin Laden killing only underscore what a mistake the Palestinians just made.
The whole strategy of Abbas and Fayyad is to bring international pressure on Israel to end the occupation, and to do this they have to get the major powers and “developed” countries behind them, because this is the world – not the Arab world or Third World, which are already behind them – that can make Israel listen. The leaders of that world want our local conflict to end, and they’re sold that Abbas and Fayyad are half of the solution – but Hamas? Which leader in Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, Canada, Australia – forget the US, of course – is sold on Hamas? Which of them isn’t at the very, very least highly suspicious of Hamas?
Which leader of any country that has Israel’s ear isn’t less enthusiastic about taking up the Palestinian cause today than they were before Wednesday of last week, when the PA and Hamas announced their surprise engagement?
Some tactical genius move this was. Some diplomatic coup. I don’t know if the Palestinians have decisively missed another opportunity, but they’re clearly on the road to pissing this one away.
The good news, though, is that President Barack Obama is back in the saddle with a great big notch on his belt, so maybe he will lead the major powers into pressuring Abbas and Fayyad into cutting Hamas loose. Maybe he’ll also pressure the Netanyahu government toward becoming the other half of the solution. And maybe pressuring Israel about the occupation would give Obama leverage to pressure the Palestinians about Hamas.
It’s not over. But if Hamas is what the Palestinians are offering Israel and the rest of the developed world, Palestine will never be.