It seems that internal Palestinian reconciliation might be on the road to success, and that is not only good news for the Palestinians but also for Israel.
There are still many obstacles in the way of ending the 10-year split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, between the PLO and Hamas. It should be remembered that at no point in the past 10 years did Hamas ideology have a majority of support among the Palestinian people. The victory of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections was the result of a faulty electoral system (each voter cast two votes, one for a national list and another for a local list); protest voting by many against Fatah and the corruption of the Arafat era; the fact that Hamas participated under the false title of “Change and Reform” and never published its genuine agenda and political ideology; the multiplicity of Fatah-aligned lists in almost all of the districts of the West Bank and Gaza; and a real desire for change.
At no point has a majority of Palestinian society supported the ideology on which Hamas was founded, and Palestinian society, while being conservative, has never adopted an Islamic fundamentalist ideology or agenda.
Even today, Hamas’s ideology enjoys less than 15% support in Gaza where it has ruled for a decade.
If Palestinian reconciliation is successful and the Palestinian Authority retakes control of Gaza, it will be done with the participation of Hamas and without the disarming of Hamas’s militia.
The reconciliation process will be a direct result mostly of Egyptian pressure which has for years let Hamas know that the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai would be contingent on Hamas disassociating itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, actively combating Islamic State and other Salafist groups, extraditing terrorists wanted by Egypt from Gaza and allowing the PA to have the control over the Rafah crossing from the Gaza side.
This last point seems to have been facilitated by Egypt creating some kind of role for the participation of pro-Muhammad Dahlan forces in Gaza, noting that Dahlan has significant support from the Egyptian president and from the Emirates. This last point could also be the one on which the reconciliation deal falls due to the animosity that exists between Dahlan and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
If in the end reconciliation does occur, the Palestinian National Council, the sovereign representative body of Palestinians in Palestine and in the diaspora, is likely to convene with Hamas joining the ranks officially of the Palestinian national movement, and then elections taking place in the West Bank and Gaza for president and parliament, creating an agreed-to post-Abbas Palestinian leadership.
New Palestinian elections is what the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want as it will put an end to the divided Palestinian house and close the chapter on the 13-year term of a president elected for only four. The Palestinians are also likely to adopt a new strategy, which may no longer be based on the two-state formula which has been the official PLO position since November 1988. If the Palestinians do drop the two-state formula, they will do so in favor of the “democracy option” – one person, one vote for all people between the river and the sea.
This scenario has been spoken about for years, and I’ve written about it many times. This is not meant to be a threat, but it should certainly be seen as one by anyone who believes in the basic Zionist idea that Israel is the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People. If there is no two-state option for partitioning the Land of Israel/Palestine into two nation-states, there is no non-democratic Jewish nation-state option either – in other words, the removal of the two-state solution possibility is the first step on a short road toward the end of Zionism.
The two-state solution is not simple and there are many risks involved in negotiating and implementing a negotiated agreement on partition with the Palestinians, but the dangers and risks for Israel are compounded far beyond coming to terms with a Palestinian state next to Israel. It is very unlikely that the current government of Israel will open any genuine negotiations. I have no illusions that there is currently an Israeli partner for peace with the Palestinians; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and crew are leading Israel directly to binationalism. Meaning a binational state with no equality and limited political rights for the Palestinians who will make up more than 50% of the residents of that state – in other words a new form of apartheid.
Those of us who remain true Zionists and are loyal to the idea and ideal of Israel being a democratic nation state of the Jewish People must stand up and declare that we demand that Israel enter into negotiations with any Palestinian leadership which accepts the two-state solution – even a Palestinian government of reconciliation which include Hamas. The principle of accepting the Zionist option of two states overrides the rejection of the idea of negotiating with Hamas. If Hamas is willing to be at the table with Israel, then that is an implicit acceptance of the two-state principle.
Palestinian reconciliation that includes Hamas will be accepted by the Arab world, by the West and probably even by the Trump administration and will no longer serve as a convenient excuse for Netanyahu and Israel not entering into real negotiations with the declared outcome from the start of a two-state solution.
But instead of pushing for a genuine peace process based on the principle of two states for two peoples, Netanyahu and his like are celebrating 50 years of settlement building and entrenchment of occupation. Making peace with the Palestinians means putting a political border between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, and not expanding settlements on land which will have to be within the Palestinian state.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.