Israel’s Pavlovian response to Palestinian reconciliation, which included the usual threats of boycott, is the result of the ingrained anxiety of people who no longer control the process. For five years, Israel has done everything to change the outcome of Hamas’ watershed victory in the elections in the territories.
The cruel closure of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, turning Gaza into a battle zone and the saga of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, with Israel continuing to negotiate with Hamas while striking out against it – all this has transformed Gaza into a symbol of the occupation and a focus of international empathy.
Israel is telling horror stories in which the Palestinian state becomes a Hamas state, an Iranian proxy and a focus of terror. It is also trying to say that this reconciliation will be the death of the peace process – the same process whose remains are already in the morgue.
These are empty threats. Palestinian terror existed before Hamas came into being, and Fatah has used terror without Hamas as its partner. The Palestinian leadership – with Hamas or without it – will not negotiate with Israel not because it will be a radical Islamic entity, but because it sees no chance of Israeli concessions and does not view Israel as a partner for peace. Israel is deluding itself and anyone still willing to listen to its wailing if it continues to declare that there will be no peace process because of reconciliation.
This self-delusion, and not Palestinian reconciliation, is the clear and present danger to the State of Israel. It draws its power from bygone chapters in history that document Israel’s powerful position internationally, its moral voice and its good name as a peace-seeking nation. This self-delusion refuses to recognize the changing reality in the Middle East, the changing of the guard among leaders and peoples and the self-interested moves of Western powers that are longing for new partnerships in the Middle East to replace the ones that have disappeared. Israel is not included in that new address list. Its good name is being torn to shreds.
But Israel has a rare opportunity to rewind the film back five years – not only to understand that the two parts of the Palestinian people are one entity, but to correct the mistakes it made in 2006. It must deal with the entire Palestinian government, even if that government includes Hamas representatives. Israel can, of course, repeat its mistakes, but then Israel, and not the Palestinian state, will become a country that threatens its own citizens.