Despite the secrecy surrounding the current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored talks, a Palestinian leak Sunday put positions on the table: a 1.9% land swap; no Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley and no Israeli presence at all in East Jerusalem; control over water sources and resources; control of the Dead Sea and border crossings; the right to sign agreements with other states (Iran?); release of all Palestinian prisoners; and the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinians know that all of these will be unacceptable to Israel. The process on the Palestinian side appears to be a fraud, designed to produce failure because the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot afford a success with Israel in the absence of an agreement with Hamas. The PA fears exposing the fact that it does not have functional control of the Gaza Strip and 1.66 million people it claims to represent. And not only does it NOT represent them, the government of Gaza – Hamas – explicitly rejects rule by the PA.
The minimal Palestinian position has always included the assumption that “Palestine” would consist of ALL the territories acquired by Israel in 1967; the West Bank AND Gaza Strip (the 1.9% swap would not change that). But while the UN may treat the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen as the political representative of Gaza (as the General Assembly did when it voted to treat “Palestine” as a State), it is not. Furthermore, the term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expired several years ago; as there have been no new elections, he does not have any legal authority to negotiate or make decisions on behalf of the the Palestinian Authority in the first place. Further, as the loser in the brutal and bloody civil war of 2007, Abbas’s Fatah is non grata in Gaza, and Hamas officials have insisted they would not be bound by any agreement reached with Israel.
The question is how to deal with that.
Any actual “peace agreement” would expose Abbas as the naked Emperor in Gaza. Perhaps Fatah plans simply to ignore its geographic and political limitations. Perhaps Abbas assumes Israel will continue to defend itself from Hamas, and thus “Palestine” can complain about Israeli military activity without having to exercise sovereign control of its borders. Perhaps it is banking on the talks failing; perhaps it is ensuring that the talks fail. At worst, the U.S. would be unhappy but not surprised; at best, Israel would be blamed.
The United States, for its part, has evidently been choosing to ignore open warfare by Hamas against Israel, and insisting instead that the “solution” to the Palestinian problem will be found between Ramallah and Jerusalem (or Tel Aviv, as the administration insists). This view, if nothing else, explains a senior American official claiming to be "shocked” by the latest discovery of Hamas tunnels burrowed into Israel.
Why would the United States be shocked by the discovery of a mile-long tunnel 60 feet underground, running 1,500 feet into Israel, and complete with lights and a trolley track? Did the U.S not think Hamas would find a military use for the concrete building slabs Israel was harangued into providing for “civilian” housing in Gaza by Western “humanitarian” organizations? Does the U.S. believe that Hamas only built tunnels to import cigarettes and cooking oil to offset the Israel-Egypt blockade? Surely the State Department knows that even at the height of the Hamas rocket war, Israel did not permit hunger in Gaza, and that the blockade by Israel off the coast of Gaza existed to protect itself against arms smuggling. The American government could not have thought Hamas had given up trying to capture the next Gilad Shalit for murder or mayhem; Hamas publicly announced its intention to kidnap more Israeli soldiers, and the number of attempts rose in 2013. The ransom Israel paid for Shalit only made the next IDF soldier an even more tempting target.
Ignoring the war is foolish: it continues apace. In the past two weeks, aside from the tunnels (plural, a second explosives-laden tunnel was found less than a week after the first):
- The IDF found a powerful bomb planted near the fence separating Gaza from southern Israel.
- The latest Hamas cartoon on al Aqsa TV lauds the Izz Adin Al-Qasam Brigades. The hero tells worshipful children, “Thousands of young fighters are prepared to be martyred for the sake of Allah, until this land is liberated. The Al-Qassam army is well-organized, new young recruits join and weapons are developed… Al-Qassam is a powerful tenacious rival, whose men are heroes, educated in the mosques and possessing the spirit of Jihad… The courageous Al-Qassam Brigades are the knights defending the homeland."
- The IDF announced that Fatah uncovered a Hamas drone factory on the West Bank, intending to launch weaponized drones into Israel.
- Israel’s Iron Dome intercepted one of two rockets launched from Gaza at Ashkelon (the other fell into the sea).
To believe Hamas attacks, and preparation for attacks, on Israel can be curtailed by the political process misunderstands the nature of the so-called “Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
As an ideological matter, both Fatah and Hamas seek to reverse what they believe was an historic mistake by the United Nations in 1947 when it accepted Israel into the family of independent nations. Both continue to seek ways to hurt, harass, diminish, and delegitimize Israel, and both teach their children that the conflict will never end with a Jewish State of Israel living peacefully in the Middle East. Both Fatah and Hamas remain committed to “armed resistance,” although Abu Mazen uses diplomacy as well, promising to use the Palestinians’ new UN status to push for punitive measures against Israel.
As a practical matter, both sides of the bifurcated Palestinian government have sought to cultivate dependency and remove opportunities for legitimate Palestinian economic advancement. [Everything that follows in this paragraph and the next are the explanation: there was economic activity, then the intifada.] There was a time Gaza was open to Israel, and Palestinians crossed the border regularly to work. There was an airport and a fully functional port. In mid-2000, 136,000 Palestinians were working inside Israel – 40% of all employed Palestinians. Another 5,000 worked in the joint Israeli/Arab run Erez Industrial Zone in the Gaza Strip. Thousands more worked in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in Israeli-owned businesses.
Yasser Arafat’s so-called “second intifada,” beginning in late 2000, killed more than 1,000 Israelis, and changed Israel’s focus from economic advancement and integration with the Palestinians into “security first.” The Erez Industrial Zone was closed after Israelis were murdered there, and the Disengagement of 2005 ended Israel’s employment of Gaza Palestinians and any residual Israeli influence. The civil war in 2007 ended any residual Fatah influence, while Hamas continues to make political inroads in the West Bank (how did that drone factory get there?).
The Gaza Strip can neither be incorporated into the “peace process” nor ignored. The culture of violence and hatred engendered by Hamas married to political success if Fatah achieves Palestinian independence would be dangerous for Israel. The Hamas-Fatah rift that a Fatah-Israel deal would expose would be more dangerous for Fatah. Watch for more wrenches in the works.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC.