To begin with a concession: there is some value to the argument that the West Bank and Gaza must be ‘united’ in order to achieve a ‘true peace’. This argument is usually accompanied by a more problematic assumption that Hamas will moderate in the political arena. The problem with the first line of reasoning as it relates to the PLO-Hamas unity agreement is that the latter territory was not of much discussion, and it seems reasonable that a West Bank agreement could have been reached with the party tasked with administering the Palestinian West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA). After the agreement, Hamas would be more than welcome to disarm and participate in the democratic process.
But let’s get straight to the problem: What is politically and conceptually wrong with a PLO-Hamas unity agreement at this time? To begin with the political, I’ve argued from the beginning that unity with Hamas would alienate Israeli centrists and liberals and allow Netanyahu to take control of the diplomatic narrative. While Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Amir Peretz, and Amram Mitzna have talked about reengaging the Palestinians, they have either come from positions of little authority (Peretz and Mitzna) or with strong caveats about…Hamas. Take Livni’s Wall Street Journal op-ed today:
“Hamas is a designated terrorist organization, ideologically committed to an extremist anti-Semitic, anti-Western agenda that sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an endless religious war, with no rights and no legitimacy for the ‘infidel.’ Unlike other elements in Palestinian society, Hamas is not pursuing a Palestinian state alongside Israel and offers no hope for peace. It does not hide this ideology. Hamas instead champions it, showing a commitment to this vision by suicide bombings, raining missiles on Israeli civilian communities, and other gruesome acts of terror.”
Benjamin Netanyahu could not have said it better.
The second reason, in addition to undermining Israeli support for continued talks, is that Hamas is a terrorist group, not a terrorist* group. Livni writes:
“The experience with Hamas, with Hezbollah—which plays a political role in Lebanon while terrorizing Israel and supporting Bashar Assad in the massacre of Syrian civilians—and with elections in other parts of the region has demonstrated that extremist groups do not generally participate in elections to moderate their agenda. They participate to launder that agenda.”
Allowing Hamas to participate in elections diminishes the principle of disarmament. Livni also correctly states that the armed Hamas’ participation would plant the seeds for a failed state by taking away the “state monopoly over the use of force” from the Palestinian Authority security services (I hope that brought back memories from Intro to Political Science).
Elliot Abrams has a more thorough–––and dare I say, insightful,––– piece on the threat Hamas poses to stability. Ehud Yaari of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy fleshes out the Hezbollah parallels here. I would encourage those who supported the unity agreement, especially liberal Zionists here in the United States, to read the three pieces linked here (these do not even contain the present internal obstacles to Palestinian unity, which will likely kill this agreement sometime soon). “Hamas will moderate in the political arena,” is simply a platitude not supported by precedent, indeed contradicted.
It’s been frustrating to watch the Netanyahu government since 2009, and I hope reports of a Labor-Hatnuah party bear fruit. But it’s time to see the PLO-Hamas reconciliation agreement as the impulsive, ill-conceived, and myopic mess that it is. Abbas did the cause of two states no favor.