Alon Ben-Meir - September 20, 2010The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority can potentially succeed, but such a success cannot be sustained unless Hamas is brought into the political process in some capacity. Concessions made or breakthroughs achieved must represent the majority of the electorates, as there can be no lasting peaceful solution without recreating a unified Palestinian polity in the West Bank and Gaza. The Arab states should therefore heed President Obama's call to meaningfully contribute to the peace process by pressing Hamas to renounce violence and accept the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative as a common frame of reference for advancing Palestinian unity and a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Israel must accept that Hamas is a reality, which it cannot simply wish away. Hamas' participation is essential, not only because it is in control of Gaza, but also because it represents a disciplined grassroots movement with a substantial social, political and security apparatus. To be sure, Hamas is a radical militant organization, yet it wields too much influence over its followers - and over the Gaza Strip - to be discounted. While Israel will continue to defend its citizens, Hamas - as an ideology - cannot be removed completely by military force, and ignoring Hamas has not been a successful strategy to marginalize it. Thus far, Hamas' political participation has been conditional upon its acceptance of the Quartet's three conditions: recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Hamas' leadership has refused to do so and is unlikely to comply any time soon, perhaps with the exception of adhering to a non-violent atmosphere.
The renewed peace talks offer a new chance to press Hamas to forsake violence and become part of the political process. Notwithstanding Hamas' recent attacks on Israelis in the West Bank coinciding with the launch of direct talks, the group has largely refrained from such violence - and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip - since the conclusion of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in January of 2009. That is because Hamas recognizes that escalating violent terror acts against Israelis would be self-destructive. Israel would not hesitate to respond militarily to an escalation of violence by decapitating Hamas' leadership. In this sense, Hamas is already tacitly acknowledging that violence is ineffective, and will only lead to more destruction. Meanwhile, the social, security and economic progress achieved in the West Bank offers a glaring contrast to the continuing despondency in Gaza, presenting a serious challenge to Hamas. Hamas is therefore in dire need of a new strategy to deliver goods and services to their constituents. Just as Israel can no longer ignore the reality of Hamas, Hamas must accept the reality and the security of Israel as a prerequisite to its own political survival.