The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, announced an interim unity government on June 2. A cabinet was sworn in with 17 ministers, five from Gaza, and elections are planned for a permanent Palestinian government that would take office next year. This agreement was the natural follow-up to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision on April 23 to pull out of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks and reconcile with the more radical Hamas, and to bypass its Israeli negotiating partner by unilaterally signing on to 15 international agreements.
Besides the inevitable difficulties in launching any new political apparatus, there is a unique difficulty that this new Palestinian venture will have to navigate: The United States, the European Union, Israel, Canada, Australia and Japan — among others — classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and since 2007 the group has unleashed thousands of rockets into Israel, aimed at civilian communities.
How Hamas attained control of Gaza reveals much about its destructive goals. In 2005, the Israelis pulled completely out of Gaza, providing its residents the opportunity to build a peaceful, self-governing Palestinian society, develop a thriving economy and perhaps set a precedent for how to solve the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, two years later, after winning an election in Gaza, Hamas proceeded to terrorize its opponents and, after a bloody civil war, oust Abbas’ Fatah group from Gaza. Since then there have been no more Palestinian elections and no attempts to revive the economy of Gaza — only unending anti-Israel diatribes and the barrage of rockets and missiles that eventually convinced Israel, in 2009, to briefly re-enter Gaza to protect its citizens from Hamas attacks.
Abbas, in announcing the new unity government, said that it would follow the PA’s stated policy of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting all previous international agreements. In other words, he is positioning the joint Palestinian government as a peace-loving state-in-the-making. But do his Hamas partners feel the same way?
No, the leopard has not changed its spots. According to the Arabic-language press, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh still believes that the armed force “that liberated Gaza and defended Gaza can liberate the West Bank and the rest of the Palestinian lands, Allah willing.” Haniyeh explained the agreement on a joint Palestinian government rather differently than Abbas, declaring its goals “protection of the resistance project, protection of the weapon of resistance, and action with all our people for the release of the prisoners and Jerusalem.” Haniyeh said, “The reconciliation is meant to unify the Palestinian people against the main enemy, ‘the Zionist enemy,’ and to continue with the option of resistance and resolve.”
There has not even been a hint that Hamas will consider recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting existing agreements, the minimal conditions that the international community has required for Hamas to lose its terrorist designation and become a legitimate partner in the search for peace.
Abbas claims that Hamas’ hardline stance really makes no difference, since the recently formed cabinet consists entirely of technocrats, with no partisan political identification. But it is hard indeed to imagine people chosen by Hamas to represent it — be they technocrats or not — refraining from the use of their newfound governmental status to advance the Hamas terror agenda.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is correct to refuse to negotiate with any government that includes Hamas. All those who yearn for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict should follow his example.
Mervyn Danker is the regional director of the American Jewish Committee’s Northern California office.