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Palestinian unity? And whose responsible for the collapse of peace talks?


Palestinians of Hamas Gaza and Fatah West Bank have announced the end of their dispute. They claim it gives them added strength to deal with Israel.

Bibi is claiming that it provides the exit from the peace process. At least temporarily, the U.S. is siding with Israel in accepting a suspension of meetings between negotiators.

The critical questions are: How pragmatic is Hamas? And can Israel or the U.S. negotiate with certified terrorists?

Israel has negotiated with Hamas, as well as with Hezbollah, but only on limited issues with respect to prisoner exchange or cease fires. There are question about the seriousness of this Fatah-Hamas agreement.  Commentators are reciting the numbers of previous agreements, which did not survive beyond the initial applause. Descriptions from inside have been of the most general pledges of loyalty, without dealing with the detailed issues that have foiled several previous short-lived declarations of unity.

Best guesses are that the agreement came about on account of both sides’ weaknesses. Egypt linked Hamas with the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist outlaws, responsible for the Egyptians’ problems in the Sinai and elsewhere. Fatah’s leadership has been under pressure from Israel and the U.S., and has limited support in the West Bank. Well known among Palestinians is the corruption of Abbas and his team, and their lack of concerns for social or infrastructural issues in the area they control. They have rejected aid from Israel, the U.S., and Europe to build water and sewage treatment facilities, as well as to generate their own electricity. They would rather run up electric bills with Israel worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and then complain when Israel threatens to withhold the transfer of import tax collections to cover the deficit. Many Palestinian homes get electricity and running water only part of each day, and their streets stink from open drains.

The weakness of both Hamas and Fatah will challenge any who are hoping that this unity will survive. Among the questions is the capacity or willingness of Hamas to control even more radical groups well established in Gaza, that often fire rockets or mortars to hurt or provoke Israel.

And to what extent is Hamas itself free from an extreme form of Islam, which like its cousins the Muslim Brotherhood impel it to impose Islamic law where it can, and accept only temporary accommodations with Israel and others?

Since the accord, we’ve heard Hamas rejections of what Abbas accepts, i.e., the legitimate existence of Israel, and Abbas himself has reasserted his inability to recognize the Jewish character of Israel.

Related to the effort at Palestinian unity is the question, Whose fault is the failure of Kerry’s negotiations and their suspension?

Palestinians are pointing at Israel. The Israeli government and right of center commentators are pretty well united in blaming the Palestinians.

Some Israelis blame the Israeli government for not trying hard enough, or not recognizing the political gains that might be made by trying to negotiate with a united Palestinian entity.

American officials are blaming both sides, which disappoints the Israeli right.

One can see a bit more moderation from Obama than from Kerry. The president has spoken about a pause in negotiation to give the parties a chance to consider the consequences of their actions. The secretary of state accepts a pause, but commits himself to keep trying.

Now the Americans are focusing on Ukraine. Kiev and its hinterland doesn’t have the pizzazz of Jerusalem, but the potential for a renewed Cold War and containment of Russia is nothing to sneeze at.

Obama has reminded us of his marginal savvy of international politics by and describing Malaysia as a southeast Asian nation with an important role in his efforts to forge deeper ties with the region.

Let’s hope that his visit to that country is not marred by the loss of Air Force One.

Abbas has declared that unity with Hamas will not keep the PNA from honoring the standing demand by the Quartet (i.e., U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia) for no terror, recognition of Israel, and adherence to previous agreements. No doubt that Abbas has his eyes and those of his family on the money the PNA has been getting each year from the U.S., and the E.U., and from other donors that may be sensitive to its behavior.

Among what we are hearing from the upper echelon of Fatah is that the PNA cannot obligate all its entities to act the same. That would seem to allow terror under the tent. There is, after all, freedom and democracy in Palestine.

And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

On the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance, Abbas made an appropriate remark about the great historical tragedy. It’s not likely to change the set of the Israeli leadership. The West Bank-Gaza alliance also solved a problem for Prime Minister Netanyahu. For the first time in a while, none of the parties are threatening to leave the government. It probably won’t help Abbas’ cause that at about the same time he was calling the Holocaust a tragedy, a spokesman for Hamas was denying its existence.

Israel for the time being may have to be satisfied with the comment out of Washington that the administration will see how Abbas statement of honoring the Quartet’s demands passes the test of time. There are rumbles in Congress about ending the aid that the U.S. gives to the PNA, i.e., somewhere in the range of $200-$400 million per year. However, rumbles in Congress aren’t bankable.

John Kerry must own up to much of the blame for what went wrong, and whatever violence may come next. He shouldn’t have tried something that knowledgeable observers were pretty certain could not succeed. Kerry has the clout of the American government behind his deeply intoned platitudes. However, the Middle East and Ukraine are so many miles from Boston.

History was against him here, summed up by what Foreign Minister Abba Eben said years ago, that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Still justifying that epigram is the reluctance of the Palestinian leadership to accept Israel’s existence, and give up the demands of refugees from 1948 and their descendants to return home. 

Lots of Palestinians live at peace alongside Jews, but the political and religious leaders are not ready or not strong enough to make the concession in the context of substantial opposition built up over the years throughout the Middle East, now with a chorus of BDS from the international left. 

A number of countries without diplomatic relations with Israel do quiet business with Israeli firms, and send their wealthy sick to Israeli hospitals, but are not about to offend the mobs trained to chant death to the Jews.

Same old, same old. Been here. Done this. Looks like we’ll have to do it again.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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