This ultimatum may have sounded good on television, yet Netanyahu must keep in mind that realities in the region and in more distant circles around Israel are more complex than a catchy slogan he drafted with his advisors. If we’re already dealing with slogans, Abbas too can say now: “Those who didn’t want to engage in talks for two years will now be facing the Palestinian president with Hamas leaders alongside him.”
Yet if I were Abbas I would not be rushing to celebrate either. The road to real reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is still long. We must also keep in mind that all reconciliation efforts in the last few years have failed. Yet should this agreement indeed be worked out, Netanyahu would do well to carefully weigh his steps and not cling to the initial response that rejects the Palestinian unity deal out of hand.
In the past year we’ve heard more and more voices in Israel – for example, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy – calling for efforts to engage in dialogue with Hamas as well. The main argument of dialogue supporters is that Israel cannot ignore what happened in the Gaza Strip: More than one and a half million Palestinians live there, and Hamas is therefore a legitimate candidate for dialogue. Now, Hamas’ legitimacy is growing.
Don’t count on world’s support
The first test that Israel can present to Abbas at this time, assuming he wants negotiations with Israel, is to demand that Hamas abandon the principle whereby Palestine must be liberated and immediately halt its attacks on Israeli civilians.
Should the Palestinian reconciliation agreement materialize, Israel would not be able to count on the international community for support. As it is, European states are already ripe for dialogue with Hamas, and the only thing that prevented direct, open contacts with the group thus far was the fear of America’s response.
Yet because of the deep distrust between Obama and Netanyahu, the US president and his Administration encouraged the Europeans in recent months to take steps that would boost Abbas and facilitate recognition of a Palestinian state.
In order to win the Obama Administration’s support, Netanyahu must present in his speech at Congress next month a practical outline for a deal with the Palestinians that will be premised on an almost full withdrawal from the territories. That will be difficult, as Obama’s attention at this time is directed at one issue only: Reelection for a second term at the White House.
Another option for Netanyahu is to pray that the Palestinians will again not be missing the opportunity to miss an opportunity – just like they made sure to miss the previous opportunities to reach a fair compromise with Israel.
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