From a time commitment standpoint, my day job has been brutal this week – so brutal, in fact, that when it was announced that Hamas and Fatah were reconciling, I didn’t read about it in the newspapers or on the Internet, but instead learned about it the following day while eating dinner with some friends. The question was asked of me this way: “Are you upset about that Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal?” After I looked back in disbelief, my friend clarified his assumption that, as a Zionist, I would presumably be very disturbed by the prospect of Hamas being incorporated into the Palestinian political process. Au contraire – as a Zionist, I actually see this development as a positive one.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Hamas. Only a self-hating Jew would go that far. But I do have a long memory. And one of the things I recall is how many times I’ve asked a fellow Zionist to join the peace movement only to be told that it is pointless to try to make peace with the Palestinians if they cannot even make peace with each other. Frankly, there was some logic behind such a position, however flimsy. After all, what good would it do to watch Israel and the Fatah enter into a peace agreement, only to watch the jilted Hamas destabilize the area by perpetrating one terrorist attack after another?
I have for years pined for peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors but have never for a moment thought that entering into such agreements is a sufficient condition for peace. True peace requires the adversaries to recognize not only the value of a short-term truce or a formal exchange of property, but the acceptance of the other’s legitimate long-term autonomy over disputed land. How, may I ask, can Israel ever achieve such peace as long as it completely pushes aside from the discussions a group like Hamas, which was elected to represent the interests of the Gazan people and no doubt enjoys more than a modicum of support in the West Bank (and perhaps even among Israeli-Arabs)?
So far, the policy of the Israeli Government is to de-legitimize Hamas in every way possible. From the Israeli standpoint, Hamas and its supporters are little different than dehumanized cancer cells – and surely, what is the point of attempting to talk, let alone to negotiate, with cancer cells? In support of this attitude, Israel can point to Hamas’ embrace of terrorism against Jews, unabashed desire to drive the Jews from control over even a fraction of the disputed region, and ruthless treatment of any Arab who is seen as being pro-Israel. And I will fully grant that if you’re a Zionist like me and you’re looking to find fault with Hamas, you don’t have to look very far. These people have behaved, purely and simply, as the enemies of the Jewish people.
But here’s the point: when my Jewish ancestors settled in Palestine and aimed to build ourselves a large enough state to accommodate many millions of Jewish residents, they had to know they would encounter opposition. And within that opposition, it was inevitable that some sub-groups would be more militant than others. Isn’t it a good thing that those two sets of sub-groups are now reconciling? And isn’t it a possible outcome of such reconciliation that the moderate sub-groups will grow in strength and bring the more militant elements closer to the fold? Why must we always assume the worst – in this case, that Hamas will somehow bully Fatah into embracing terrorism, rather than that Fatah will persuade Hamas that a two-state solution is in the best interests of the Palestinian people?
If my previous blog post sounded a bit Pollyannaish, let me reassure you that I am not Pollyannaish when it comes to Hamas. Still, as I’ve indicated, that organization speaks for a significant portion of the Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, and if there is to be peace, that portion must somehow be placated. Israel certainly isn’t capable of doing it. My hope is that, over time, the Fatah and its supporters can accomplish that task. I don’t see it happening overnight, but if we are to have peace in the Holy Land, it needs to happen. Lord knows that Israel can’t justify simply pretending that Gaza doesn’t exist, and hoping that if they make peace with the Fatah and the West Bank, all their problems with the Palestinians will go away.
This war between the Jews and Palestinians has dragged on for many decades. If it is to end, it will be because a unified government of the Jews enters into an agreement with a unified government of the Palestinians – not because one warring side thought it could divide and conquer the other. So please, raise a glass that the Palestinians are reconciling. It may be fraught with problems in the short run, but in the long run, it is a critical part of the evolutionary process … the end of which will be two peaceful states for two peaceful peoples.