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Netanyahu's silver lining in Palestinian unity

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Unable to process Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ April 24 unity deal with Gaza-based Hamas, 64-year-old Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended peace talks. Netanyahu doesn’t yet get that the unity pact with Hamas means that the once State Department-branded terror organization has finally renounced terrorism, accepted Israel’s right-to-exist and looked ahead to an independent Palestinian state. While there are many details to work out, the fact that Abbas and Gaza-based Hamas leader 52-year-old Ismail Haniyeh have come under one roof is the most positive development since Hamas seized Gaza June 14, 2007. “The government of Israel will not hold negotiations with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas, a terror organization that calls for Israel’s destruction,” said Netanyahu’s office.

At war with Israel since founded by quadraplegic, blind Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 1987, Hamas has been the point of Palestine’s sword of resistance, practicing various forms of terrorism, including waves of suicide bombing. Responsible for countless Israeli deaths, Netanyahu can’t get with the times and accept that his once nemesis has now handed Israel an olive branch. Living in the most sordid conditions in Gaza, Haniyeh has finally come to his senses, realizing that Israel can’t be defeated on the battlefield. “They are currently suspended,” said an unnamed Israeli official, referring to the latest round of peace talks begun July 30, 2013 by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Israel and U.S. officials have to come to grips with the colossal change toward Mideast peace: Hamas finally renounces violence and joins the peace process.

Instead of celebrating Palestinian unity, Netanyahu’s Cabinet acted like its reason for a funeral. “I hope [Abbas] changes his mind,” said Netanyahu. “I will be there in the future if we have a partner that is committed to peace . . ,” said Netanyahu, not realizing that Hamas, in joining the PLO, renounces violence, accepts Israel’s right-to-exist and backs the peace process. “Right now, we have a partner that has joined another partner committed to our destruction. No-go,” completely misreading the purpose behind Hamas joining the PLO. Gaza’s Hamas Chief Haniyeh has already said he accepts Abbas serving as the head of the Palestinian government. Haniyeh knows that joining the Palestinian Authority means Hamas accepts all prior Palestinian peace deals with Israel. Netanyahu’s rejection of the Palestinians unity pact makes no sense other than pandering to his right wing constituents.

Announcing a unity deal yesterday, Palestinian officials didn’t help their cause not clarifying the meaning of the new unity pact. PLO official Wasel Abu Yousef, rejected “Israeli and American threats, minimizing Hamas’ role in the new combined entity. Abbas needed to make a more forceful statement welcoming Hamas in joining the peace process. Netanyahu and his conservative Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman don’t trust anything linked with Hamas. Announcing the unification pact with Hamas, Abbas had a perfect chance to reassure the U.S. and Israel that he’s made progress promoting Palestinian-Israeli peace. While there’s much work left negotiating for an independent Palestinian state, Hamas coming under Abbas makes the process more realistic. Had Israel cut a deal with Abbas, it would have applied only to the West Bank, certainly not Gaza.

Instead of pointing fingers at Israel, Abbas must make clear public statements about his unity pact with Hamas. “The sanctions will be measured. We will not cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israeli TV, also not clear on the meaning behind Palestinian unity. Instead of sanctions, Livni should seek clarification from Abbas to enlighten Israeli leaders and public about the benefits from the recent unity agreement. “Israel will respond to the unilateral Palestinian action with a series of measures,” said Israel’s Security Cabinet. Israel has concerns that the PLO will seek criminal charges and restitution in the International Criminal Court. “There’s no need for the Americans to get ahead of themselves over this. What happened in Gaza in the last two days is just a first step which we welcome and want to reinforce,” said PLO deputy Secretary Yasser Abde Rabbo.

Israeli and U.S. officials need to look at the silver lining in Palestinians’ recent unity pact. U.S. and Israeli officials know that they couldn’t negotiate a legitimate peace deal with only half the Palestinian people. Joining forces with the PLO, Haniyeh admits that he can’t go it alone in Gaza without suffering the kind of isolation that left Hamas destitute. Joining forces with Abbas, Haniyeh’s forced to accept the reality that armed struggle against Israel is no longer viable. Long gone are the days under the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat when Hamas’ military wing could pressure Israel into making concessions for peace. Without yet stating it publicly, joining the PLO, Hamas admits that the days of armed resistance against Israel are over. Telling Netanyahu that Hamas renounces violence and accepts Israel’s right-to-exist would go a long way toward a comprehensive peace deal.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.con and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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