“Egypt’s Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi should in­sist that Ha­mas em­brace (the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive) and join the ranks of the rest of the Arab world. The US and the EU should lend pub­lic sup­port to this ef­fort, which will open the door to le­git­imise Hama

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The cur­rent ef­forts to rec­on­cile be­tween the Pales­tinian Author­ity (PA) and Ha­mas will be doomed to fail just like sev­eral pre­vi­ous at­tempts, un­less both sides agree to re­solve three ma­jor ob­sta­cles — a united strat­egy to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, the fate of Ha­mas’ cache of weapons, and the Pales­tini­ans’ fu­ture gov­ern­ment — that have haunted them since Ha­mas took con­trol of Gaza in 2007. Given their mu­tual an­i­mos­ity and deadly ri­valry, the ques­tion is, will the Pales­tini­ans be able this time around to play their cards right?

First, agree­ing on a peace­ful so­lu­tion to their con­flict with Is­rael re­mains the cen­tral is­sue over which they must reach a con­sen­sus. Whereas the PA has long-since recog­nised Is­rael on the ba­sis of the June 4, 1967 bor­ders, Ha­mas — even though it has stated its will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate with Is­rael on a two-state so­lu­tion — con­tin­ues to call for Is­rael’s ul­ti­mate de­struc­tion.

If Ha­mas were to join the PA and the lat­ter as­sumes the re­spon­si­bil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate with Is­rael, nei­ther the cur­rent right-wing nor even a fu­ture cen­trist/left­ist Is­raeli gov­ern­ment would ne­go­ti­ate with the PA un­less Ha­mas first recog­nises Is­rael and re­nounces vi­o­lence, which it is un­likely to do.

Since it is widely as­sumed, how­ever, that with­out Ha­mas no Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace can en­dure, the ques­tion is how to per­suade Ha­mas to ac­cept the two pre­con­di­tions with­out los­ing face. The an­swer lies with the Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive (API). Act­ing as the me­di­a­tor be­tween Ha­mas and the PA, Egypt’s Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi should in­sist that Ha­mas em­brace the API and join the ranks of the rest of the Arab world. The US and the EU should lend pub­lic sup­port to this ef­fort, which will open the door to le­git­imise Ha­mas as a part­ner in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael.

In the main, the API stip­u­lates that recog­ni­tion of Is­rael is con­di­tional upon re­turn­ing ter­ri­to­ries cap­tured in 1967, a ‘just so­lu­tion’ for the Pales­tinian refugees, and East Jerusalem be­com­ing the cap­i­tal of a newly-es­tab­lished Pales­tinian state. By Ha­mas em­brac­ing the API, it will strengthen the hands of Is­rael’s cen­tre and left par­ties who will then be in a strong po­si­tion to present to the Is­raeli pub­lic a cred­i­ble frame­work for peace. I main­tain that short of achiev­ing that, the PA and Ha­mas will con­tinue to shuf­fle the cards, yet nei­ther will score a win­ning hand.

The sec­ond ma­jor ob­sta­cle is Ha­mas’ pos­ses­sion of thou­sands of rock­ets and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of its mil­i­tary wing to re­tain them un­der any cir­cum­stances. PA Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas is cor­rect to de­mand that Ha­mas must sur­ren­der such weapons, in­sist­ing that he will not al­low Gaza to mir­ror the sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon, where Hezbol­lah main­tains a de facto state within a state with a huge arse­nal at its dis­posal, free to op­er­ate as it deems fit.

More­over, any Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, re­gard­less of its po­lit­i­cal lean­ing, will in­sist that a fu­ture Pales­tinian state be de­mil­i­tarised and will not ne­go­ti­ate with the Pales­tini­ans un­der any threat. Given the un­like­li­hood that Ha­mas will sur­ren­der its stock­pile of rock­ets to the PA and its de­sire to mend its dif­fer­ences with Egypt, Pres­i­dent Sisi is in a po­si­tion to in­sist that Ha­mas store its arse­nal with Egypt.

In re­turn, Egypt will open the bor­der to Gaza and be in a strong po­si­tion to coax Is­rael to grad­u­ally lift the block­ade to ease the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis of the Pales­tini­ans, which Ha­mas des­per­ately wants to al­le­vi­ate. This was in­deed one of the main mo­ti­va­tors be­hind Ha­mas’ will­ing­ness to end its dis­cord with the PA.

Egypt’s role as a go-be­tween is in­dis­pens­able, with­out which the prospect of a sus­tained unity agree­ment be­tween the PA and Ha­mas is next to im­pos­si­ble. More­over, the fact that Egypt is at peace with Is­rael puts it in a per­fect po­si­tion to also help shape the unity agree­ment be­tween Ha­mas and the PA and make it ul­ti­mately con­ducive to peace with Is­rael.

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