Why Israel’s pulling out of the peace process

Bloomberg ViewApril 26, 2014 

The decision by Israel’s security cabinet to suspend peace talks now that the Palestinian Authority has decided to forge a unity government with Hamas contains elements of reasonableness, realism, hypocrisy and myopia.

Reasonableness: Hamas is an anti-Semitic terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. Hamas has not changed in a way that would suggest it is embracing the official position of the Palestinian Authority, which is to argue for a two-state solution.

If Hamas were to revoke its Jew-hating charter, cease making it a policy to murder Jewish people whenever the opportunity presents itself, and come to the view that a peace treaty with Israel is a moral, theological and political possibility, then Israel might revisit its position.

Realism: The peace process was going nowhere fast. Now it’s going nowhere faster. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could not even reach an agreement with the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on how to reach an agreement. With Hamas in the picture, the possibility of an actual — as opposed to a procedural — breakthrough is vanishingly small.

Hypocrisy: Israel contends that it can’t negotiate with a group that denies its right to exist. There are, however, parties in Netanyahu’s governing coalition that are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. So both camps have in their ranks extremists and negationists. This is a very weak argument.

Myopia: Netanyahu’s government has pointed out — correctly — that it is very difficult to negotiate with a divided Palestinian entity. The West Bank is under the control of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority. Gaza, which would comprise a large part of any future Palestinian state, is under the control of Hamas. Until the Palestinians end their own civil war, the argument goes, the peace process would be stalled.

Now, of course, Netanyahu is advancing the argument that Israel cannot negotiate with a unified Palestinian entity, if Hamas is to be part of it. This is a hard argument to make, given his previous argument. (See hypocrisy, above.)

It is also somewhat myopic: Israel doesn’t get to pick its enemies. It has to make peace with the ones it has. Hamas is one of those enemies. And Netanyahu’s argument doesn’t take into consideration that, theoretically at least, the Palestinian Authority could, over time, help moderate Hamas and bring it more into the two-state fold.

But who am I kidding? Maybe both of Netanyahu’s superficially contradictory beliefs are true. Maybe he can’t make peace with a divided Palestinian entity. And maybe he can’t make peace with a unified Palestinian entity. Maybe he can’t make peace with any Palestinian entity because members of his own political coalition are uninterested in taking the steps necessary for compromise.

In sum, no one really wants to make peace, except: Secretary of State John Kerry, the Israeli left, the European Union, and a large number of other individuals and entities who believe that the time is ripe for Arab-Israeli reconciliation. Perhaps, this is the crowd that lacks realism.

It is a low moment for the Middle East, of course, but it can always go lower.

Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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