Middle East peace: The wrong pact
The world shared the American people’s gratitude for the special forces who rid us of Osama bin Laden, but there was one flagrant exception.
“We condemn the assassination of an Arab holy warrior,” declared Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, who also deplored “the continuing American policy … of shedding Muslim blood.”
This is the same Hamas that has launched hundreds of suicide bombers and thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. Hamas terrorists have held Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, in solitary confinement for nearly five years without a single Red Cross visit. And just last month, they fired an antitank rocket at an Israeli school bus, killing 16-year-old Daniel Viflic. Such atrocities have affected the lives of all Israelis. My own sister-in-law, Joan Davenny, a visiting teacher from New Haven riding on a bus to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was murdered by a Hamas bomber.
In spite of these scars, we still seek the creation of a Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in mutual recognition, security and respect. This is of paramount interest to Israel. We are willing to make painful sacrifices to achieve it and to put forth new ideas for advancing the peace process. And the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, we hoped, would be our partner.
But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, listing a number of preconditions that have never before been demanded by Palestinian leaders and that could never be met by any Israeli government. Instead, he revealed his plan to declare Palestinian statehood unilaterally, without making peace, a violation of treaties with both Israel and the United States. In a recent Newsweek interview, he criticized President Obama for failing to live up to Palestinian expectations and for mishandling the peace process. Then, last week, Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas, an Iranian proxy, dealing a devastating blow to peace.
Indeed, while the world welcomed Bin Laden’s demise, the pact delivered a potent victory to terrorism. Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Both insist that Hamas cannot be recognized — much less engaged in peace talks — without first renouncing violence, accepting Israel’s existence and abiding by all previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has stressed that without meeting these conditions, “We will not deal with, nor in any way fund, a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.” The pact also jeopardizes the progress in Palestinian institution-building and economic development achieved by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whom Hamas bitterly opposes.
Israel does not object to Palestinian unity. On the contrary, we want to negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that speaks for its people in both the West Bank and Gaza. “I’ll negotiate with anyone who wants peace,” Netanyahu said, following the pact’s signing. But can Israel regard as negotiating partners those who speak of its destruction? How can Israelis interact with an organization whose covenant proclaims that “Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it” and “the Day of Judgment will not come until the Muslims fight and kill the Jews.”
The inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian leadership would seem to put a stop to the already stagnant peace process, but there are still ways to revive it. Under the leadership of the United States and Europe, the international community can uphold the criteria for participation in the process: no terror, recognition of Israel and acceptance of all previous accords. Any attempt to establish a Palestinian state unilaterally must be resisted and Palestinian leaders urged to return to — and remain at — the negotiating table. There, those Palestinian leaders genuinely committed to peace will still find Israeli counterparts and an Israeli public prepared to discuss all the core issues and swiftly conclude a comprehensive agreement.
The pact between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority underscores the need for renewed negotiations now. The Palestinians, along with many Middle East peoples, are at a crossroads. One path turns backward to intolerance and conflict, while the other advances toward freedom and coexistence. The first leads to Bin Laden and his Hamas admirers; the second can still be blazed.
Michael Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.