Palestinian Reconciliation and Hamas

May 1st, 2012

J Street believes that Hamas’ calls for Israel’s destruction, its support for terror against Israeli civilians, and its denial of the Holocaust are reprehensible. Therefore, the possibility of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas poses real challenges to hopes for a peaceful two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the same time, we recognize several important realities: first, that one makes peace with one’s enemies not one’s friends; second, that Hamas is a political movement with a significant base of support within Palestinian society and politics; and, third, that 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.

Many who oppose a two-state deal have argued that divisions among the Palestinians make peace impossible. Obviously, reconciliation reduces that obstacle – but skeptics of a two-state agreement now say that a deal is impossible with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.

As long as Hamas’ policy is – as its leader said in Tehran in February 2012 – that it will never recognize Israel and that the resistance will continue until all Palestinian land is liberated and all refugees are returned, there will be no chance of peace with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas or of American aid to such a government. So it was when Egypt, Jordan and the PLO all once held the same positions.

J Street has no illusions about the dangers and risks ahead. Yet opinion data still show 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 believe that all opportunities for peace must continue to be explored, even if reconciliation does take place, particularly given the significant dangers associated with the status quo.

We urge the US, Israel and the international community to respond to reconciliation with caution but not hostility, in an effort to get answers to these questions. Encouraging movement in the right direction through engagement with the Palestinian leadership is more likely to lead to a long-term peaceful resolution of the conflict than condemnation of and punitive measures against reconciliation efforts.

While we oppose official contact with Hamas until it meets the Quartet’s conditions, we would not oppose a decision by the Israeli government, the US, or other countries to find unofficial, indirect ways to engage Hamas in order to advance US and Israeli interests. For instance, it is important to remember that this Israeli government and prior ones have engaged indirectly with Hamas over such issues as bringing home Gilad Shalit and achieving ceasefires that halt rocket attacks against Israel.

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