J Street on Palestinian Reconciliation

April 29th, 2011

News that a preliminary agreement on political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas has been reached poses one of the most important challenges in years to those who hope to see a peaceful two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J Street’s reaction to events always starts from our guiding principle: an unshakeable belief that Israel’s survival and security as the democratic home of the Jewish people depends on achieving a two-state resolution to the conflict with the Palestinian people – meaning the broadest possible cross-section of Palestinian society. We are guided by our belief that Israel’s long-term security depends on establishing two states with internationally-recognized borders. Overcoming the split between Fatah and Hamas, and between the West Bank and Gaza, has always been a precondition for final resolution of the conflict. In fact, many who oppose a two-state deal have, in recent years, done so by arguing that divisions among the Palestinians make peace impossible. Obviously, reconciliation reduces that obstacle – but now skeptics of a two-state agreement have immediately stepped forward to say that a deal is impossible with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. We are well aware that there are those in Hamas who are not interested in a two-state solution but who seek the long-term destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish national home. No one should have any illusions about the dangers and risks ahead. We also know, however, that the majority of the Palestinian people are willing to accept a two-state deal and all the compromises it entails in order to end the generations-old conflict. So we also believe that no one should doubt that there are still very real opportunities available that should be explored, particularly since the dangers and risks of the status quo are so significant. If indeed this reconciliation deal is implemented – and history does give reason to question whether it will – there are many questions that the new Palestinian leadership must answer in the coming weeks and months. Is the Palestinian Liberation Organization – as the official representative of the Palestinian people – still committed to a two-state solution? Is it willing to reaffirm its renunciation of the use of violence and terror against Israeli civilians? Will existing security understandings be honored? Will rocket fire from Gaza be stopped? These questions become all the more important in light of the possibility of United Nations recognition in September of an independent Palestinian state. Yesterday’s news does not change the calculus for both the United States and Israel that the best way to avert a vote in September is for there to be a credible and realistic diplomatic initiative underway that offers a realistic path toward peace and security. The only way to answer the questions raised by these new developments is through engagement and talks. We urge the United States, Israel and the international community to respond to this new development with caution and questions, but not with hostility. Encouraging movement in the right direction through engagement is more likely to lead to a long-term peaceful resolution than responding, for instance, by automatically cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority. There are respected Israelis with impeccable security credentials – such as former Mossad Director Ephraim Halevy – who have argued over the past year that diplomatic engagement even with Israel’s sworn enemies is necessary if there is to be a long-term resolution to the conflict. We believe that, with eyes wide open to the risks, it is imperative not to shut the door to talks with a newly configured Palestinian leadership – perhaps initially through third parties. Perhaps one place to start is with the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit. Reconciliation on the Palestinian side could provide new hope and opportunity for his release. The Israeli government has pursued negotiations for Corporal Shalit’s release indirectly through intermediaries. It should now be willing to explore such a deal with a unity government led by President Abbas. If the newly-unified political leadership of the Palestinian people wishes to signal to Israel that it is serious about achieving a peaceful two-state resolution, nothing would have a greater impact on Israeli and international opinion than his release in the coming weeks. I leave tomorrow with a delegation of J Street leaders for an 8-day visit to the region. We are scheduled to meet with top Israeli and Palestinian officials including President Peres and President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad, Deputy Prime Minister Meridor and others across the ideological spectrum. We will press our message of the need to explore opportunities with eyes wide open to the risks. And we will urge the Palestinian leadership to ensure that any new government affirm that it will maintain a policy of zero tolerance for violence, will abide by prior agreements and will pursue a two-state resolution to the conflict that recognizes the state of Israel.

Additional Resources:

“Shaul Mofaz Proposes Immediate Recognition of a Palestinian State,” by Nahum Barnea. Yedioth Ahronoth, May 6, 2011. “The Game is Over,” by Natan Sharoni. Yedioth Ahronoth, May 4, 2011.