The below was taken from an email I sent earlier today and has been slightly edited for this blog:
Today, The New York Times is reporting that Fatah, the Palestinian government in the West Bank, and Hamas, the government in Gaza, have announced a plan for a reunified government and are planning elections within a year.
This is huge news. For one, the West Bank is looking more and more like a stable economy and quasi-nation and is, in fact, planning to declare itself a sovereign state in September in the UN. By joining with Hamas, they can lend legitimacy to the idea that the Palestinian people finally speak with one voice, as opposed to being divided between two mutually hostile governments. This is especially important in peace negotiations with Israel, since one of the principal complaints by pro-Israel supporters is that they don’t have anyone to negotiate with that represents all Palestinians.
So you’d think Israel would welcome this news of reunification. But no. Here’s the NYT quote:
While the deal, reached after secret Egyptian-brokered talks, promised a potentially historic reconciliation for the Palestinians, Israel warned that a formal agreement would spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.
“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, “Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”
The choice, he said, was in the authority’s hands.
So now, after years of claiming it didn’t want to negotiate because Palestine was divided, Israel now threatens to cut off peace negotiations as soon as they announce reunification. The irony is unreal. Every single time Palestinian leadership concedes something in negotiations that Israel claims was necessary, it brings up something new to hold against them. They’re in the process of a perpetual “peace process” so they can continue siphoning off land through “settlements” until there’s nothing left. (Imagine negotiating with someone else over how much cake to eat, but as you’re negotiating they’re eating it piece by piece. Israel’s been doing this for 43 years.)
One last point: “Asked why the deadlocked talks had come back to life, Mr. Nounou said, “The will was there for everyone.” He also credited the new mediators from Egypt, put in place after that country’s revolution, with “an exemplary performance,” including weeks of courtship at private meetings with each side before they met face to face with each other for the first time today” (bold font mine).
Yet another reason US support of dictators in the Middle East serves no one’s best interests, and in fact inhibits real progress. Fatah and Hamas have been at odds for years; and yet two months after the Egyptian revolution, they’re announcing a deal. This is how democracy works, and it’s why Israel, far from being our “only democratic ally in the Middle East,” is in fact inhibiting democracy all across the region, by handcuffing US foreign policy in incredibly damaging ways.
The dozens of Israelis we interviewed, whether they were members of the Knesset, academics, or local entrepreneurs, all communicated a depressing lack of hope about the prospects for a peace settlement. Their main explanation for this failure was that the Palestinian leadership was divided between Fatah in the West Bank and the “terrorist group” Hamas in Gaza. As one Knesset member put it, “We simply do not have a viable political partner in peace.”
Israelis and Palestinians each placed the onus for fruitful peace negotiations on the other side Sunday, with Benjamin Netanyahu saying Israel needed a “real partner” for peace, and Saeb Erekat warning that the upcoming talks were a test for the Jewish state, dpa reported.Commenting on the proposed negotiations, announced Friday by the US and the EU, Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday morning that the talks required both sides to take the necessary steps, “and not just the Israelis side and not just the Palestinian side.”
“If we find that we have a genuine partner on the Palestinian side, an honest and serious negotiating partner … if we find such a partner, we can soon reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
Surely the place for setting out stalls is precisely at the negotiating table away from the glare of the media? Israel has been sitting at that table for 21 months, waiting for a negotiating partner to arrive at the other side.