Netanyahu and Haniyeh: The common denominator

From the Challenge Magazine

What do the top leaders of Israel and Hamas have in common? They share the same enemy: PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Abbas embodies all that Ismail Haniyeh despises: secularism and compromise with Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, hates Abbas because his moderation threatens Israel’s control of the West Bank. Abbas wants to achieve peace with Israel on the basis of the 1967 lines, including dismantlement of the settlements. He threatens Netanyahu’s political future, for in paying the price of peace, the Israeli PM would have to part from his extremist right-wing allies, as well as the Land of the Patriarchs.

Netanyahu and Haniyeh, who have led their citizens into yet another round of bloodletting, share something else in common: their tacit agreement concerning the fate of the Gaza Strip, and in consequence of the West Bank too. Netanyahu greatly loves the schism within Palestinian ranks between Hamas and Fatah. It gives him a marvelous pretext to continue his mantra that “There is no partner for peace.” Haniyeh, for his part, in order to preserve the separate status of Gaza, deepens the rift with Fatah at every opportunity, ever seeking ways to destroy the “partner,” Abbas.

The real partners, then, are Netanyahu and Haniyeh, and they know it. Neither believes in peace. Haniyeh repeats ad nauseam that he will never recognize Israel. Netanyahu, though compelled by Obama to utter the words “two states,” has clearly demonstrated by his behavior that he will never recognize a Palestinian state. The ideal for both is not peace, rather an amorphous situation that goes by various names, such as hudna, tahdiyya, cease fire, or mutual deterrence.

Like Siamese twins

These things came to clear expression in a speech of Haniyeh’s on the second day of the current conflict. The TV channels hyped it in advance. We waited in suspense: Haniyeh’s words would no doubt determine the fates of people on both sides of the Gaza fence. At precisely 8:00 p.m., the man appeared, features somber and tense. For the first twenty minutes of his half-hour speech, he eulogized Ahmad Ja’abri, the Hamas commander whose assassination by Israel sparked the current round; he heaped praise on the other Hamas martyrs as well. In the remaining ten minutes he praised Egypt for its energetic steps, which amounted, in fact, only to the recall of its ambassador from Tel Aviv and the sending of its prime minister, Hisham Kandil, for a visit on the following day. Haniyeh included himself in the Arab Spring with the rest of the Muslim Brotherhood. He had only one more thing to ask of Egypt. Not the cancellation of its peace with Israel, not to threaten war, only this: to open the Rafah Crossing (the border point in Sinai between Egypt and Gaza).

Haniyeh’s speech showed what he was aiming for. He made no mention of a Palestinian state. He didn’t threaten to turn to the United Nations for international recognition. Nor did he bother to appeal to the entire Palestinian people. In fact, when he named the Palestinian martyrs, he mentioned Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, but he had no word for the PLO leaders who had likewise been murdered by Israel, such as Fatah founder Abu Jihad, author Ghassan Kanafani, and Abu Ali Mustafa, leader of the Popular Front. Palestinian history according to Haniyeh began with Hamas, whose mission is to establish the State of Gaza, which is slowly gaining recognition.

In tandem with Haniyeh’s speech, the Israeli TV studios hosted Likud ministers who were sent to justify the operation, which Israel calls “Pillar of Smoke” (Exodus 13:21). Their job was to blur the facts and mobilize the public for this new round. Yisrael Katz, who is coordinated with Netanyahu, explained that the operation’s purpose is not to unseat the Hamas regime, but to arrive at a long period of quiet like that on the Lebanese border since 2006. Katz claimed that Israel needs gradually to stop supplying Gaza with electricity and fuel, as well as essential products. That is exactly what Haniyeh demands from Egypt: Open the Rafah Crossing for the passage of goods and people to Egypt, and then the border between Gaza and Israel will be quieter.

We should note that whenever the Likudniks appear in a studio, the Opposition is also invited—an election campaign is on, after all, so time must be apportioned equally. As expected, the representatives of the “opposition” express total support for the government’s military moves, while trying nonetheless to insert now and then a shy little word for peace. They agree that it’s important to impose a long-term cease-fire on Hamas, but if one wants to solve the problem and prevent the renewal of warfare, one should talk to Abbas and reach a comprehensive solution. The Likudniks, in turn, break into the “opposition’s” remarks with phrases like, “What’s the connection?” or “We won’t do Abu Mazen’s job and overthrow Hamas,” and of course, “Abu Mazen is weak and doesn’t have control, so there’s no one to talk to.”

It isn’t so easy

These then are Siamese twins: the Israeli Right, which hopes to perpetuate its rule in the West Bank, and Islamic fundamentalism, which hopes to perpetuate its rule in Gaza. There is, however, a fly in the ointment. In order for this common dream to be realized, the Rafah Crossing must be opened, freeing Israel from the yoke of Hamas and Hamas from dependency on Israel. Without Egypt that won’t happen. The opening of Rafah would mean the political demise of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), hence the death of the never-born Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s desire is the nightmare of Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi, who conditions the opening of Rafah on the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah, of Haniyeh and Abbas, so that the Crossing will come under PA control.

Thus everything comes back to Abbas, the non-partner, the irrelevant and impotent butt of ridicule. The Americans, the Europeans, and the Egyptians understand very well that the de facto recognition of Hamas will prolong the conflict in the West Bank. It will cement the fundamentalist group’s control of Gaza, while the Palestinian question will continue to bubble and endanger the region.

Four years ago, just before Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, Hamas accused the Mubarak regime of collaborating with the Occupation because it refused to open the Rafah Crossing. Today the issue of Rafah remains unresolved, despite the fact that Mubarak has been replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The key to a solution in Gaza does not depend on broadening the military operations. Seventy thousand Israeli soldiers won’t do the trick, and like Cast Lead, this Pillar of Smoke will disperse. The only way to secure calm in the south, as well as in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. Four years ago, after the conclusion of Cast Lead, I wrote the following in a piece called, “Israel and Hamas Won, So Who Lost?”:

“Today, when the truth is clear to all—that a solution requires return to the 1967 borders—Olmert, Barak and Netanyahu do all they can to shirk an agreement. The Israeli leadership refuses to negotiate about East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. It continues to finance the settlers. The ineluctable result of this policy will be more blood, without justification, point or aim.”

Four years later, amid sirens and blasts, these words again become relevant. Operation Cast Lead, headed by Olmert and Livni, brought Netanyahu to power. Today, as elections approach, it is upon everyone who wants to build an alternative to the fundamentalist right wing, and prevent more wars, to proclaim loud and clear: Stop this war, end the Occupation, tear down the settlements, and at last make peace!

About Yacov Ben Efrat