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Hamas PM Haniyeh Photo: Reuters
Hamas PM Haniyeh Photo: Reuters
 
 

Choosing Hamas

Op-ed: Netanyahu government keeping understandings with Hamas under wraps due to electoral concerns

Alex Fishman
Published: 12.07.12, 15:00 / Israel Opinion

The State of Israel is conducting regular negotiations, more or less, with Hamas. About once a week an Israeli delegation travels to Cairo, where it holds talks on easing financial constraints, which effectively means Israel is holding talks on easing the siege on Gaza. When the talks with Hamas began, prior to Operation Pillar of Defense, they focused on financial relief. After Pillar of Defense, another delegation joined the talks to discuss easing security restrictions. Only recently it was decided to merge the two delegations, and now they both sit opposite Egyptian officials, while Hamas' representative is in the next room.

 

This description is meant to show that these negotiations are not merely focusing on the technical aspects of the ceasefire; they are focusing on easing restrictions to the point of lifting the blockade entirely. These negotiations indicate that Israel's policy of isolating Gaza from the West Bank has come to an end. Israel, under Netanyahu's leadership, has changed its policy vis-à-vis Gaza. Instead of toppling Hamas, Israel now wants to strengthen the Hamas regime so it will preserve the calm and also in order to push the Islamist group toward the anti-Iranian Sunni coalition: Egypt, Qatar and Turkey.

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But how does one explain this to the rightist voter – or to any Israeli voter for that matter – who has been told all these years that Hamas is a terror organization that Israel will never negotiate with? The answer is simple: You don't. The current policy is aimed at dragging out the negotiations so as not to reach any agreement with Hamas before the elections. In any case, Israel needs some time to "test" Hamas and see if it can uphold the truce - so we have a great excuse. The Israeli officials continue to travel to Cairo, and if the Egyptians cancel a meeting every now and then, they are not too disappointed.

 

Even when Israel and Hamas do reach certain understandings, Israel keeps a low profile due to electoral concerns. For instance, Israel has already agreed to expand Gaza's fishing area, cede a large part of the buffer zone along the border – apart from the area in which the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings are located – and significantly increase the amount of construction material that enters Gaza.

 

There is already talk of allowing Gaza to export goods, and the next stage may include talks on the possibility of allowing Gaza residents to work in Israel. If these developments would have been published in the foreign press, Israel would have scored some points, God forbid, but Netanyahu is vying for Naftali Bennett's pool of voters – and everything else can go to hell.

 

Even more ridiculous is Netanyahu's policy regarding the Palestinian Authority funds. The prime minister was among the first to understand that the Palestinian Authority will collapse if its funds are withheld. A few months ago the security establishment explained to Netanyahu the financial ramifications of retaking control over the West Bank: Some NIS 12 billion ($3.15B) a year. Netanyahu understood and instructed the finance minister to give the Palestinian Authority an advance on the taxes it is supposed to collect. A few days ago Israel transferred NIS 200 million ($52M) to the PA as an advance, but this did not stop it from declaring that it will not transfer NIS 450 million (roughly $120M) to the PA as punishment for Abbas' unilateral initiative in the UN.

 

This announcement is meaningless. Israel will pay the entire sum. If the PA does not receive the money, it will not be able to pay the salaries of 25,000 members of its security forces in the West Bank. Without salaries there will be no security cooperation, and without security cooperation there will be terror. The PA already has a NIS 2 billion ($520M) deficit. It does not pay suppliers, and banks refuse to work with it. But it is Israel that will pay in the end, so why make such declarations and pay a heavy diplomatic price?

 

And does someone really believe Israel will ever build in the E1 zone? It would take at least six months just to obtain the construction permits – way after elections are held. By then, these decelerations will have also dissolved. But as far as the Israeli government is concerned, every ambassador who is summoned is a victory: One less Knesset seat for Naftali Bennett's party.

 

 

 

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