Hamas and Fatah, the ruling faction in the Palestinian Authority, signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar on 6 February 2012 to form an interim unity government. According to the agreement, PA President and leader of Fatah Mahmoud Abbas will head the government, replacing the current Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who is supported by the West.
The move is a further step in implementing the so-called reconciliation agreement that the two Palestinian factions signed in Cairo in May 2011.
Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist organization, supported by Iran and dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Its charter states that "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." The Hamas charter also makes clear the method of Israel's destruction: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad."
Hamas' actions are not limited to hate speech. It is responsible for suicide bombings as well as gun attacks on Israeli civilians, with its terrorist activities increasing after Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Hamas brutally seized control of Gaza in 2007, transforming the Strip into a radical Islamist territory from which it continues to target Israeli civilians with mortar and rocket strikes. The organization has murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians and continues to arm itself in order to perpetrate even deadlier terrorism.
The international community has branded Hamas a terrorist entity. Not only the United States, but also the European Union, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan have officially listed Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Don’t reward terror
The international Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN) set out three requirements for any Palestinian government, specifically the renunciation of terrorism, the recognition of Israel's right to exist and the recognition of signed agreements between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas has not accepted these minimal conditions of the international community and gives no sign that it will ever be willing to do so.
Reconciliation of the main Palestinian factions could have meant that Hamas adopted Fatah's line and was willing to engage in negotiations with Israel. However, Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal made his goals clear when, upon signing the Doha agreement, he stated that it would create greater unity "in order to be free for confronting the enemy," referring to Israel.
It now seems that Fatah, the main component of the Palestinian Authority, is the one rallying behind Hamas' extremist views.
Given Hamas' objective of destroying Israel, its rejection of the Quartet principles and its continuing terrorist activities, the Palestinian Authority faces a major decision. Will it choose negotiating peace or following Hamas? PA President Abbas cannot have it both ways; either he has a pact with Hamas or he has peace with Israel. If he implements the Doha agreement and joins forces with the enemies of peace, the PA would be abandoning the path of reconciliation with Israel.
Israel hopes that the Palestinian Authority will chose peace. In recent weeks, Israel and elements in the international community have made great efforts to advance that goal. It would be a terrible shame if the PA were to unite with the forces of terrorism, turning its back on the negotiating process which is the only means to achieving the peace that is Israel's greatest dream.
The international community can play a role in promoting peace. It must stand by the Quartet's three principles. By clarifying to the Palestinian Authority that impenitent terrorist organizations cannot be partners with those seeking peace, the world will be telling the Palestinians that terrorism will not be tolerated or rewarded.
Yigal B. Caspi is Deputy-Director General for Media and Public Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem