Yes, the sky is falling

I’ve been surprised, although not alarmed, by the willingness of some of my liberal Zionist comrades to welcome the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement, and the new Palestinian government that was sworn in this week. Peter Beinart, often a reliable spokesperson for liberal Zionists, points out that there are ministers in Israel’s government who hold positions that are the mirror image of Hamas.

If we temporarily dispose of the fact that Bayit Yehudi and the far-right of Likud don’t have their own paramilitary forces that launch attacks on Palestinians, this isn’t an unfair criticism. But it profoundly misses the point.

That Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t an enthusiastic supporter of the two-state solution comes as a surprise to precisely no one, least of all this writer. And indeed, his response to the US’s plan to work with the new Palestinian government smacked of a five-year old crying in middle of Toys-R-Us.

And pointing out, as Beinart and others have, that some Israeli officials have faulted Abbas for his lack of full territorial legitimacy confuses actual Israeli policy with mediocre PR from a mediocre Foreign Ministry. Israel understood that an agreement with Abbas was an agreement with Abbas and would only cover the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The ‘inevitably’ of Hamas’ inclusion is a post-unity fiction and nothing more. That the US guaranteed Israel that it wouldn’t have to talk with Hamas, twice, is indicative of this reality, which makes this piece by Sheera Frankel on a US-Hamas backchannel all the more startling.

As I’ve written before, Fatah-Hamas unity has taken all domestic pressure off Netanyahu to make any serious effort toward a two-state solution. It has ended any chance for an agreement in the foreseeable future. This would’ve been painfully obvious to anyone with an elementary knowledge of Israeli politics. The State Department should have been working to prevent this agreement, not encouraging it. (And it’s not as if the mistake of including Hamas hasn’t been made before.)

But this fiasco also reveals another fact that liberal Zionist must internalize: Netanyahu was not the only unwilling party. While the White House put most of the blame on Israel, which was fair considering the talks began to slide when Netanyahu reneged on releasing prisoners, it also acknowledged that Abbas “shut down,” and that he “was more comfortable pivoting to public grievance than focusing on a private negotiation.”

Both Netanyahu and Abbas were unwilling to stir their respective pots. The unity agreement is a manifestation of Abbas’ reluctance, not a prelude to a successful round of negotiations as some hope. The Palestinian Authority will survive so long as it never does include Hamas cabinet ministers. But if the election spelled out in the unity agreement takes place, and results in a situation that requires Hamas participation, the sky will have indeed fallen on Israel and Palestine.

About the Author
Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at