Signing a unity agreement, Gaza-based Hamas and Ramallah-based Palestine Liberation Organization AKA Palestinian Authority ended their seven-year feud when Hamas militants ejected the PLO from the Gaza Strip June 14, 2007. While diplomats connected with the latest round of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians scratch their heads, unifying the divided Palestinian population lends more credibility to an already shaky peace process. PLO leader 79-year-old Mahmoud Abbas insists that Israel release the remaining group of Palestinian prisoners that includes 54-year-old Marwan Barghouti, considered a potential successor to Abbas. “It’s hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist,” said State Department spokesman Jen Psaki. Reconciling the two Palestinian factions makes prospects for peace more realistic.
When President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry decided to resume peace talks July 30, 2013, skeptics knew that any peace deal only applied to 50% of the Palestinian people. As long a Hamas and PLO remained divided, any peace deal with Abbas would not be accepted by Gaza-based Hamas. While there are real concerns now about negotiating with a terror group, at least Israelis know any deal applies to all Palestinians, not just the group in Ramallah. Because Hamas is on the U.S. and Israeli terrorist list, it presents problems for negotiation unless they expressly renounce violence and validate Israel’s right to exist. “The Palestinian reconciliation deal raises concerns and could complicate the efforts to extend peace talks,” said Psaki, not sure what would happen. Whether the State Department knows it or not, Palestinian unification opens the door to peace.
Initial worries about Hamas renouncing its ongoing war with Israel should give way to the reality that they’ve joined the PLO accepting all prior peace deals, paving the way to the current round of peace talks. Abbas wants Barghouti released from an Israel prison, something that could occur quickly, as long a Palestinians accept that they can’t dictate the peace process unilaterally. Recent peace talks stalled because Abbas insisted that Israel release all remaining prisoners, stop settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and accept East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Only yesterday, Abbas threatened to dissolve the PLO and hand back control to Israel of the West Bank. State Department officials notified the PLO that the U.S. would most likely end aid and involvement in peace talks. Going to the U.N. without direct talks with Israel could compromise U.S. participation.
Obama and Kerry have pushed Israel into making more concessions to pull out the latest round of peace talks even where it compromise U.S. national security. Israel’s security became paramount to U.S. interests following Sept. 11. Striking a deal with a terror group like Hamas, that danced in the streets after Sept. 11, would not work for U.S. interests. “The ball is in the Palestinian court to answer questions about how government announcement affects the talks,” said Psaki. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu views the latest development as another Palestinian attempt to scuttle peace talks. “This evening, when talks are still underway to extend negotiations, [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] has chose Hamas over peace,” recognizing Hamas as mortal enemy to the Jewish State. “Whoever chooses Hamas, doesn’t not want peace,” said Netanyahu, anticipating another “Intifada” or uprising.
State Department officials seek clarification from Ramallah about unifying the PLO with Hamas. “We view this move as a return to the familiar pattern of the Palestinians who run away every time they need to make decisions,” said Netanyahu, referring to final status talks about a permanent Palestinian state. Netanyahu has no plan under pressure from the U.S. or not to offer Palestinians East Jeruslaem or, for that matter, discuss the “right-of-return” to Israel’s pre-1967 Six-Day-War borders. Abbas knows that reconciling with Hamas would require the State Department-branded terror organization to sign a document rescinding its war with Israel, but, more importantly, renouncing violence or “resistance” as a way of achieving peace. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned that the new government could hurt the peace process because Hamas continues its war against Israel.
White House and Israeli officials should look at the PLO and Hamas decision to form a unity government a good thing for the peace process moving forward. Without a unified government, any peace deal with half the Palestinian population would carry little weight. Joining Abbas’ PLO, Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh will be forced to accept all prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements or asked to resign. “Hamas has refused for years to conditions of the [Quartet on Middle East Peace] that include recognizing Israel, and end to violence and respecting agreements signed between Israel and Palestinians,” said Livi, revealing the real significance of a Palestinian unity government. Without giving his blessing, Haniyeh hinted he was “happy to declare and end of the period of inter-Palestinian division,” admitting to dismal economic conditions in Gaza but, more importantly, recognizing progress comes through peace.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.