18 months of signals: Abbas not interested in peace with Israel

Abbas has once again signalled he'd rather avoid the hard choices and difficult compromises that go hand in hand with achieving peace with Israel

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Mahmoud Abbas has sent a number of gestures to Israel over the past 18 months
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Nathalie Tamam
On 12 February 2012 11:44

This week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Palestinian reconciliation was in the ‘Palestinian and Arab national interest’. Shaking hands with his political rival, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, he proclaimed that the agreement to form a unity government of independent technocrats for the West Bank and Gaza would be implemented at the earliest opportunity.

What does this sudden thawing of relations between Fatah and Hamas mean for the Peace Process? It was only last month that Hamas publicly opposed President Abbas’ decision to partake in exploratory talks with Israel and slammed the PLO for agreeing to sit down with the ‘Zionist enemy’.

The ‘Doha Agreement’, marks the end of more than four years of separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza and states that a unity caretaker cabinet will be formed ahead of planned elections in the Palestinian Territories. This will be the first time that the rival factions have cooperated since the bloody Hamas coup in 2007, when Fatah was brutally expelled from the Gaza Strip.

President Abbas will head up the unity government, with Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad and Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh positioned as his deputies. This amounts to a prime minister for the West Bank and Gaza respectively, which would imply that Hamas’ stronghold in Gaza and Fatah’s in the West Bank will remain the same.

 

This begs the question, what exactly will be achieved by reconciliation if nothing changes on the ground? What is the impetus behind this new understanding between the two groups?

For Hamas, and particularly Khaled Meshal, the advantages are clear. The group is losing popularity in the Gaza Strip and polling badly in the West Bank. Electorally, their disastrous policies and continued repression of the Gazan population are doing them no favours.

Additionally, Meshal is being side-lined as Hamas’ overall decision maker. Recently exiled from Syria, he is looking for new board and lodgings but Jordan has refused and Egypt is looking unlikely.

There is no doubt that establishing renewed relations with the internationally accepted and financed Fatah group is strategically sound for both Meshal and Hamas. If this can be achieved without having to make any ideological concessions - as seems to be the case – the better for it.

For President Abbas and Fatah, the reconciliation will significantly complicate matters. The agreement states that Hamas will be admitted to the PLO, the formal Palestinian organisation that negotiates with Israel. This will almost certainly result in peace talks with Israel being frozen as Israel has expressed serious concerns about what Palestinian reconciliation is really all about.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu clearly outlined his position that Abbas cannot hold the stick at both ends; ‘it is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel’.

The Palestinians can’t expect to have it both ways and Israel can’t be expected to negotiate with Hamas while the group’s stated aim of destroying them remains the same. Over the last 6 years, Hamas have shown no sign of accepting the internationally recognised ‘Quartet Principles’ which require them to accept Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous peace agreements.

They refuse to take any of the important steps necessary to be a part of the peace process whilst continuing to plan terrorist attacks and sending increasingly deadly rockets over the border to Israel.

Logically, the move makes little sense for President Abbas. Exploratory peace talks are unlikely to recommence until Palestinian internal political developments become clearer. The widely held opinion is that peace cannot be reached with a Palestinian administration composed of those who seek global jihad whilst avidly rejecting negotiations.

All of this ought to speak to the international community about President Abbas’ true intentions. Perhaps, he is not actually all that interested in peace with Israel right now. His actions over the last 18 months certainly back up this view. His refusal to return to direct negotiations, his snub of the 10 month settlement moratorium implemented by Israel and his continued unilateral diplomatic agenda, all emphasise this point.

Reconciliation with Hamas is just another way in which Abbas will avoid making the hard choices and difficult compromises that go hand in hand with achieving peace. 

Nathalie Tamam is the Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel and writes in a personal capacity. Views reflected in this piece are the author's only 

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