Israel suspends talks, and Washington’s hypocrisy on Hamas

By suspending talks over Hamas’s inclusion in the Palestinian leadership, Netanyahu is proving that he was never seeking either a legitimate partner, or a legitimate peace.

The Israeli government announced that it is suspending peace talks with the Palestinians on Thursday as a response to the reconciliation deal signed a day earlier by Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PLO.

In choosing to disconnect from the already flailing peacemaking process, Israel is demonstrating that it never intended to make peace with the Palestinians, but rather with the “good Palestinians.”

Refusing to conduct peace talks with Hamas is one thing, but Netanyahu has decided to boycott Abbas because he had the gall to reconstruct his fractured government – a Palestinian societal and political wound that was one of the biggest obstacles to peace. (Read Noam Sheizaf on why the reconciliation deal is good for peace.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel and the United States may have given Mahmoud Abbas a mandate to conduct peace negotiations without Hamas, but his mandate from the Palestinian people — at least a democratic one — expired a long time ago.

President Abbas’ term in office ended over five years ago. The last elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which Hamas won, took place eight years ago. (Fifty PLC members have seen the inside of Israeli prisons since, many under administrative detention.) The PLO (its Central Committee), too, hasn’t seen a ballot box in 18 years.

A reconciliation deal with Hamas that ensures new elections would renew Abbas’ mandate to negotiate peace, or revoke it once and for all. Furthermore, Abbas, like Netanyahu, has declared that any peace deal must be put to referendum, which could not take place absent some rapprochement with Hamas.

Add to that the fact that no peace deal could be implemented without a single Palestinian governing body ruling over both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and it becomes clear why this reconciliation deal was necessary.

Read +972’s full coverage of the peace process

All of that is not to say that Hamas is a desirable partner for anything. In its seven years ruling the Gaza Strip, it has proven itself to be an illiberal, authoritarian and regressive resistance organization that has done little more than stumble while slowly learning how to govern. Add to that its history of deliberate violence against civilians and it’s not difficult to understand why Israel would want to seclude it in Gaza. But as Yitzhak Rabin famously said, “you don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.”

While Abbas has proven himself a worthy partner for perpetuating a process of peacemaking, he would never have been able to reach a comprehensive resolution to the conflict without first reconciling with Hamas.

By suspending talks over Hamas’s inclusion, Netanyahu — and his inner cabinet, which voted unanimously on Thursday — is proving that he was never seeking either a legitimate partner, or a legitimate peace.

Washington’s hypocrisy: Hamas and Palestinian democracy

When Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to his second term as prime minister five years ago, the United States successfully pressured him into making his Bar-Ilan Speech, accepting in theory the two-state solution, albeit on his own terms. Washington did not demand that Netanyahu’s government endorse such a plan, nor did it demand public assurances that the self-proclaimed derailer of peace processes would honor all of Israel’s past agreements and commitments with the Palestinians.

Just over a year ago, when Netanyahu brought Naftali Bennett and his explicitly annexationist and anti-peace party into his third government, the United States did not demand that it recognize Palestine or accept its obligations toward it. When Naftali Bennett was quoted advocating for summary executions of Palestinians, explaining, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there’s no problem with that,” Washington did not threaten to cut off support for Israel unless the latter “unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence.”

Such public assurances were not necessary because Netanyahu was and remains the address for peace negotiations and the United States was convinced, at least publicly, that he remained committed to negotiating a two-state solution, in good faith or not.

Such is not the case when it comes to the Palestinians.

It has been 21 years since the Palestinian Liberation Organization renounced violence, recognized Israel’s right to exist and dedicated itself to seeking a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through negotiations with Israel. PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has recited those principles ad nauseum since in an effort to defuse crisis after crisis.

The PLO also remains the party with which Israel conducts negotiations and which ultimately sets and carries out Palestinian foreign policy. But when the PA (and/or the PLO) includes parties that have yet to commit to those basic principles through democratic elections — which, it is important to recall were encouraged by none other than the United States — Washington cuts all ties with Ramallah. This has happened before, and it didn’t end well.

So what’s the difference between peace obstructionists in the Israeli government and those in a Palestinian government? Why is the United States “disappointed” and “concerned” by one but not the other? One reporter at the daily State Department briefing on Wednesday wasn’t quite sure either:

I mean, if the Israelis – certainly the Israeli Government has some members in it that do not recognize the Palestinians and so on, but the government itself deals with the Palestinians. Now, if you have exactly the same situation but the reverse on the Palestinian side – the Palestinian Government recognizes Israel, works with it, negotiates with it, but it has members that come from Hamas – why would this jeopardize the process?

The answer didn’t exactly shed much light on the situation:

[I]t’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.

PA President Abbas, and certainly PLO Chairman Abbas, is not about to “hand over the keys” to Hamas, like he perennially threatens to do to Israel. He will not cede power to the Islamic movement and he is not about to abandon the centerpiece of his career — seeking Palestinian statehood through diplomatic, non-violent means. So why, you ask, would it be a problem for Israel to continue negotiating with the PLO if and when Hamas enters a PA government? Simply put, in the words of State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, it wouldn’t.

President Abbas has been our – has been the negotiating partner with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and if that were to continue, certainly we would not only support that, we’ve been facilitating that.

Driving that point home on Thursday, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub clarified, “the reconciliation that we achieved will be implemented according to the program of Abu Mazen [Abbas], which recognizes the state of Israel,” according to Haaretz.

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