The recent election of Mofaz as Kadima leader recalls his endorsement of negotiations with Hamas, which does not seem to suit his image as a hardliner general. Reconciling the two does not require an elaborate conspiracy plan, but rather a willingness to abandon false dichotomies and seriously consider the implications of any given situation or maneuver.
I explained my position on Hamas negotiations almost four years ago, but this is a good opportunity as any to revisit it, and reiterate some basic tents of my views. In short, I examine any step of Israeli-Palestinian \ Israeli-Arab peace process in light of two things: (a) what presuppositions are assumed regarding each side and the nature of the conflict; and (b) what is the likely result of the proposed step (in contrast to its professed purpose).
All supporters of negotiations with Hamas have not added any stipulation that such negotiations assume Hamas as sole representative of the Palestinian people. It follows, that supporters of negotiations with Hamas assume Israel proceeding in at least two separate axes: a PLO axis, negotiating the future of the West Bank, and a Hamas axis, negotiating the conditions of the Gaza strip.
Such a division weakens the Palestinian position on both fronts: Palestinian leaders from the West Bank (Abbas, Fayyad, Erekat, etc.) will be in a disadvantaged position to negotiate a full peace process with Israel. They will not be able to agree to a formula of conclusion of all demands, when two million of their people are not part of the final agreement. Equally, any solution concerning the refugees will not include the dwellers of the refugee camps in Gaza, leaving the refugee solution not entirely solved [this, theoretically, is disadvantageous for Israel as it is for the Palestinians, but I set that aside for now]. Finally, assuming some agreement on Palestinian independence in the West Bank is reached, previous suggestions to connect the West Bank and Gaza Strip (via tunnel, bridge, highway, etc.) and especially those suggestions which impaired Israeli sovereignty will be put aside, since Israel could (and would be likely to) claim that so long as the Palestinian party of the negotiations does not control Gaza, it cannot vouch for the security of this corridor. As for negotiations with Gaza leaders, all these apply, and much more, since an independent state in Gaza alone is hardly viable, let alone the severely diminished quantity of land, and Israel is unlikely to tolerate two independent Palestinian states on its borders.
I contend that most supporters of negotiations with Hamas realize this, and support it precisely because it is an excellent tool to weaken Palestinians, while professing a compromising and liberal stance to the inattentive Westerner. This can be counteracted by demanding a supporter of negotiations to support unconditional free movement between Gaza and the West Bank, and\or to stipulate that prior to negotiations with Hamas, Israel will only negotiate with one agreed representative of the Palestinian people. Refusal to these conditions should assume that the supporter of negotiations with Hamas supports them primarily in the context of Palestinian disunity.
Finally, the question of weakening Palestinians as a strategic and tactic method needs to be addressed: Israel’s military, financial, industrial and intellectual knowledge over the Palestinians should be understood as undisputable. Assuming that Israel needs to maintain – or even increase! – this gap while approaching a peace process is a grim misconception. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For peace to be achieved concessions should be made, and it logically, as well as morally, ethically and strategically, follows that the stronger side is the side to make the concessions. Palestinian unity and strength is a principal imperative on the road to true peace. For me, it is clear that this unity of representation must include not only disenfranchised Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but also Palestinian diaspora, and Palestinian Israelis. If this cannot be achieved, a lasting peace will not be achieved. But going in the opposite direction, of fragmenting even the shaky unity of the West Bank and Gaza, is not a solution. Granted, Israel does not assume responsibility for inner-Palestinian conflicts. At the same time, Israel has controlled many aspects of Inner-Palestinian politics, and continues to control major elements of possibilities of unity (such as free transportation between Gaza and the West Bank). Israel’s initiatives should be directed not towards manipulating these control-points in ways that are favorable to its stance (regardless of disagreements on what this would be), but rather on withdrawing and relinquishing these points, so that all inner-Palestinian politics remain truly an internal matter. Once again, in this matter as in many others, Israel’s first step towards peace needs to be a role of relinquishing power and refraining from manipulations.