By Gidi Greenstein
Israel has put itself in two kinds of a catch-22 situation in its relationship with the Palestinians. The first one has to do with the question of partner: it was decided not to talk with Hamas, and demand that it transform its ideology – or give up power. However, Hamas is the only body on the Palestinian side that can serve as an "address."
We’re talking about a disciplined movement that has refrained from engaging in terrorism lately. On the other hand, Israel is willing to talk to Fatah, because it recognizes Israel and existing agreements. Yet Fatah cannot serve as an "address," because it’s an undisciplined, split movement that lacks a master.
The al-Aqsa Brigades, which belong to Fatah, carry out numerous terror attacks and have been greatly influenced and penetrated by Hizbullah.
The second catch-22 situation has to do with the two contradictory objectives Israel aims to achieve. On the one hand, those same demands from Hamas, yet in the same breath, a desire to avoid a Palestinian Authority collapse or the emergence of a humanitarian crisis in its territory.
The contradictions inherent in the Israeli policy are clear. Hamas won’t change. Therefore, the diplomatic and economic pressure will only make the Authority’s situation worse. Hamas will also refuse to give up power, and if it does do so, it will go back to the path of the armed struggle.
A Fatah-led Palestinian Authority will not have the desire or ability to stop Hamas. The expected result is the PA’s deterioration, to the point of collapse.
Genuine Existential Threat
Those who think that Israel is only gaining from the intra-Palestinian fighting are bitterly mistaken. The PA’s collapse and crumbling of the international aid system will hold strategic implications that would dwarf the political, diplomatic, military, and economic fallout of the last Lebanon war.
Here, we’re talking about a genuine existential threat to Israel’s ability to guarantee its future as a Jewish and democratic state. Therefore, the question isn’t whether Israel should recognize Hamas or vice versa – currently this is a tactical matter.
In a reality where the end of Israeli control over the West Bank is not in sight, the strategic question is different. The fundamental question is what political, legal, and security framework should be applied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the coming years. The current policy means that the PA is dying out, along with the framework of current agreements.
The only way out of this entanglement is the PA’s rehabilitation. This is the only body that has a chance to ensure that the Palestinian population’s basic needs are met while also enforcing security.
Such rehabilitation requires Israel to manage itself vis-à-vis a political entity with a considerable Hamas component. In other words, Israel will have to give up on explicit recognition by Hamas and an explicit ratification of existing agreements.
There’s no other way, unless Israel is willing to take the risk of a PA collapse and a return to square one in the diplomatic process, as it was before the Oslo declaration or principles in 1993.
In light of the above, the Mecca deal and Palestinian national unity government constitute an opportunity for Israel to emerge out of the catch-22 situation, leave behind a failed policy, and choose a new diplomatic path.
The current path of power isn’t the only way, and is not bearing fruit. We must recall that Hamas can also be fought using political means premised on the responsibility to be imposed on it as the leading faction of the PA government.
-Gidi Greenstein is the director and founder of the Reut Institute. (Yedioth/Ynet News, 16 February. 2007)