Despite the rising tension this past weekend between Palestinian
Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas movement, it is safe to
assume that soon a government of national unity will be formed in the
PA. Actually, the Palestinians have no other option but to establish
such a government, in order to try and lift the political-economic
siege imposed on the Hamas government, and in effect on the entire PA,
by most of the world's governments.
It has been seven months since most of the PA's workers – some 160,000 people providing a living to support nearly a million souls – have last been paid, even partially. The Palestinian economy has long since become one of beggars. The public services, primarily health and education, which have more or less been functioning, are progressively deteriorating. Strikes have prevented the start of the school year.
The political agenda of the Palestinians' national unity government does not meet the three familiar demands of the Quartet and the international community. That is the truth of the matter.
The first demand is to recognize the State of Israel, but instead the draft of the new Palestinian government's guidelines states that it "recognizes the political reality of the region." Even chairman Abbas said that this recognition was not clear; over the weekend he defined it as a "recognition by inference" of Israel. According to these guidelines (the majority of which are based on the so-called prisoners' document), the Palestinian government also does meet the second demand: the adoption of past international accords and agreements. Instead it is written that the government accepts the accords and agreements which serve the Palestinian interest. In this way, it will always be possible for someone to argue that the past agreements are harmful to Palestinian interests. Even regarding the third demand, a total cessation of violence, the new Palestinian government announces that resistance will continue in the occupied territories – the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Yet, nevertheless, the Israeli government should recognize this government, negotiate and try to enter into a political process with it. Why? The makeup of the unity government, with Hamas at its center, is clear evidence of an obvious process that the Palestinian political system is undergoing.
The Hamas movement, whose genesis is rooted in the declaration of an unconditional and total war on the State of Israel, has gradually changed. The first changes were evident in its participation in the municipal elections and the Palestinian parliamentary elections, after denouncing it for years because it said the PA was established on the basis of the Oslo Accords. Later, the Hamas government decided to interact with Israel on daily issues, and to allow the PLO and Abbas to continue the political negotiations with Israel. This government has also brought about the renewal of the cease-fire – as long as Israel does not operate in Gaza. Now they are willing to let other Palestinian factions into their government, to forfeit cabinet majority and to recognize Israel and past agreements "by inference."
The direction is therefore clear. The European countries have started to acknowledge it, and there is a fair chance that they will begin to offer aid to the new government. The Israeli government should also fall into line with this trend. Israel does not have the option of getting rid of Hamas. It is an authentic Palestinian movement, which rose to power democratically, and in fact with our approval. Abbas indeed has the authority to dissolve the Hamas government and assemble a government of professional experts. He did not do this, nor will he, since that would spell his end. He would lose the remainder of his public support, and condemn himself to be branded as the United States and Israel's stooge.
The alternative to Israeli recognition of the Palestinian unity government is to keep pressuring Hamas and chairman Abbas by a siege and a boycott. The deterioration in the West Bank, and especially in Gaza, will continue, and the violence will increase. Nothing good can come out of it.