The Palestinians have claimed the initiative with the push for UN recognition of statehood and the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. Over the next week, President Barack Obama will give a major address on the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting with the president, both will address the AIPAC conference and the prime minister will speak to the U.S. Congress. With that context in mind, we would like to share with you some responses and analysis as we watch and hope for positive developments in the days ahead.
The Israeli government has been working hard to derail the Palestinian statehood push, arguing that face-to-face negotiations are the only path to a two state solution. That has also been the stated U.S. position as the American government, unsuccessfully thus far, has been to trying to convince the Palestinians to postpone the UN campaign while efforts are made to restart the peace process.
It is interesting to note that last week MK Yitzhak Herzog, former minister and candidate for Labor Party chair, came out in favor of Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state. Ari Shavit reported in Ha’aretz that “Herzog proposes that Israel announce immediately that it supports the United Nations resolution to establish a Palestinian state. According to his plan, whose details Haaretz has obtained, Israel would recognize a Palestinian state whose borders will be set in negotiations between the sides, ratify the Clinton plan, freeze construction beyond the separation fence and enact legislation to compensate settlers wishing to return to within the Green Line. “ To see more details on Herzog’s peace plan, click here.
When the surprising Fatah-Hamas agreement was announced, Netanyahu immediately attacked it. Soon after Israeli Finance Minister Steinitz announced that he would delay the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of NIS 300 million that Israel collected in taxes on its behalf. Only in response to international pressure did Israel begin transferring the funds owed to the PA.
Ha’aretz has now revealed that “an internal, confidential Foreign Ministry report advises that the creation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government in the Palestinian Authority would offer Israel a strategic opportunity. The report states that “the Palestinian move is not only a security threat but also a strategic opportunity to create genuine change in the Palestinian context. Such change may serve the long-term interests of Israel.”
The report was was prepared by the ministry’s policy planning division, which is staffed by career diplomats and is responsible for formulating foreign policy recommendations.
Instead of counseling blanket opposition to a Palestinian unity government the authors of the report recommend that Israel adopt a “constructive approach that would sharpen the dilemma on the Palestinian side” regarding the aims of such a government and Hamas’ unwillingness to recognize Israel.
The authors of the report believe that a more positive approach to Palestinian reconciliation efforts would help to improve relations between Jerusalem and Washington. “Israel must be a team player and coordinate its response to a Palestinian unity government with the administration,” the report states. “This will empower the United States and serve Israeli interests.”
The Israeli Labor Party, now in the opposition, has also taken a more measured approach than Netanyahu to the new PA unity government. Colette Avital, former MK and International Secretary for the party, spoke to the Ameinu national board meeting this past weekend, stating that “ there is no doubt that agreement is a first step towards a renewed unity of the Palestinian people and of the political class. Overcoming the split between the West Bank and Gaza has always been a prerequisite for a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
She added, that “you must be aware – as we sadly are – that there are those in Hamas, and they are still a majority, who are not interested in a two-state solution and who seek the long-term destruction of the State of Israel.”