Opinion | Opinion

Israel faces new challenge as its foes unite

The establishment of the Fatah-Hamas government this week put Israel in a delicate situation.

It has always been Israel’s firm position that it will not negotiate or deal with Hamas, because it is a terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel. This Israeli policy was fully backed by the “Quartet,” the organization including the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia, created to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

No wonder, then, that Israel reacted with frustration and anger when all around the world governments seemed to be welcoming the Fatah-Hamas government. Most hurtful in Israeli eyes was the American position. Speaking to reporters in Beirut on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry, while admitting that Hamas was a terrorist organization that continues to call for the destruction of Israel, added that “we are obviously going to watch closely what happens, but we will . . . work with it [the new Fatah-Hamas government] in the constraints that we are obviously facing.”

Indeed, the Israeli frustration is justified. If you listen to Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas in Gaza, then the intentions of the new government are clear. According to Reuters, in a rally held in Rafah (on the south tip of the Gaza Strip) on May 27, Haniyeh declared that “Palestinian reconciliation aims to unite the Palestinian people against the prime enemy, the Zionist enemy.”

Hamas, then, obviously doesn’t accept the “Quartet principles,” which could have made it a partner: Renouncing and combatting terror, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and abiding by existing agreements.

Add to this the recent collapse of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, and the logical conclusion is that the recent internal Palestinian reconciliation means that Fatah is drifting in the direction of Hamas, with the world turning a blind eye to this dangerous slippery slope.

There might be, however, another option — namely, that Fatah will draw Hamas closer to its way of recognizing Israel, or, if this might turn out to be too much for the Islamic radicals of Gaza, then at least of coexisting with Israel.

Maybe history can teach us something here. Last week, the Palestinians celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the PLO. On that occasion, in late May 1964, the Palestinian Charter was launched, calling for the destruction of Israel. Soon after, actions started following words: terrorist attacks, airplane hijacking, infiltration first from Jordan, then from Lebanon, war and more.

If I were a Palestinian looking back at this half century, I would ask myself what had brought me closer to having a state of my own: The armed struggle against Israel, or the willingness to sit down at the table with Israel and cut a deal?

I think that the answer is clear. Decades of harassment by the Palestinians didn’t discourage the Israelis; on the contrary. Settlements in the West Bank only flourished.

Again, if I were a Palestinian, I would have to ask myself whether it would have been better to come to terms with Israel 40 years ago, when there were hardly any Israelis in the West bank, or 20 years ago, when there were 150,000, or today, when more than 300,000 people live in Israeli settlements, some of which are too big to even think about being uprooted.

As Jews cite over the Passover feast, remembering the plight of the Israelites in Egypt: “The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.”

It was this painful coming to terms with reality that drove the PLO to gradually abandon its principles concerning Israel. First in 1988, and more so in the Oslo Accords of 1993, the PLO reluctantly recognized Israel.

When Israel complained that contrary to the Palestinian promises, articles in the Palestinian National Charter negating Israel’s right to exist had not been erased, the Palestinian National Council met on 24 April 1996 in Gaza, of all places, and voted to do so with overwhelming majority: 504 in favor, 54 against, and 14 abstentions.

Will Hamas follow in the footsteps of Fatah and the PLO? Not so fast. Hamas is motivated more by Islamic doctrine, while Fatah is more political.

However, the Hamas Islamists have to feed people in Gaza, and the fear of Israeli retaliation forces them to act contrary to their fiery rhetoric: It is little known that it is not Hamas that occasionally launches rockets toward Israel, but renegade Jihadist factions, and that when it happens, Hamas tries to curb it.

Pragmatism, then, is possible, and in our troublesome area, it is not a small thing.

I am not deluding myself that the Palestinians, either followers of Fatah or Hamas, will ever become great lovers of Zion. All that matters is that all of them accept that Israel is there to stay. Full peace may be a goal too presumptuous to achieve in our time, but a reasonable coexistence is possible. Fatah-Hamas government, then, is not only a risk; it is also an opportunity.

Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club.