Friday, September 22, 2006

Mixed Messages in Palestine

In the wake of the announcement that Hamas and Fatah will form a unity government to lead the Palestinians comes a fair amount of confusion about whether the new government, and more specifically Hamas, will recognize Israel's right to exist and commit itself to pursuing a negotiated land-for-peace settlement rather than violence. Yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah declared that the new unity government would recognize Israel. Abbas said that "I would like to reaffirm that any future Palestinian government will commit to all the agreements that the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority have committed to," agreements understood to include the mutual recognition documents signed in 1993 by Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Furthermore:

These letters contain mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, renunciation of violence, and commitment to negotiations as the path toward reaching a permanent solution that will lead to the establishment of the independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. Any future government will commit to imposing security and order, to ending the phenomena of multiple militias, indiscipline and chaos and to the rule of law.

However, today Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas announced that he would neither recognize Israel nor head any government that did so. Haniyeh is seen as one of the more moderate leaders of Hamas, and his unwillingness to commit to Abbas' government harkens to problems as the Palestinians try to create the unity government. Fatah has been trying to figure out a way in which Hamas can participate and tacitly recognize Israel without being forced to publicly announce the change, for example by accepting the mutual recognition documents as part of the government but not in its party platforms. It is unlikely that Israel, and more importantly for the purposes of ending the isolation of the Palestinian government and re-opening the money taps, the US, would accept such vague language.

However, this would be a mistake. If Hamas is boxed in to a corner where its only choice to recognize Israel and thereby alienate its popular support, it may not be willing to do so. What is more important is that Hamas commit itself to pursuing peaceful negotiations and cracking down on renegade militias. As I noted in a previous post, Israel and the US need to develop clear guidelines for what kind of behavior will and will not be tolerated from a Palestinian government. If Hamas can demonstrate the ability and willingness to control its gunmen and a consolidation of power in the hands of the government and away from the militias (including itself), it should be accepted as the legitimate governor of Palestine and as a real negotiating partner, regardless of whether it can say the words of recognition.

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