Zvi Barel
Haaretz (Opinion)
May 29, 2011 - 12:00am

President Barack Obama was deeply understanding of Israel's resistance to negotiating with Hamas. So much so that in the blaze of fiery words he unleashed on Benjanim Netanyahu, AIPAC and the Israeli public, Obama gave Hamas the status it always wanted: the tripwire for any and all negotiations with Israel. This status is now approved and sanctioned by the United States.

Because from now on, it doesn't matter what Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas say. Even if Netanyahu draws a partition line across Jerusalem, gives it up as Israel's capital and agrees to return a million Palestinian refugees to Israel, the partner question will remain. As long as Hamas is part of the Palestinian government, there's no one to make all these "painful compromises" with, Netanyahu and Obama say.

From the high hills of the complete Land of Israel ideology and from the depth of the "defensible borders" strategy, the dilemma has shrunk to a simple practical question: Is Hamas in the picture or out? As if before the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Israel was prepared to properly negotiate with Abbas, offer compromises, freeze settlement construction or at least decide which settlements it wants to annex in a peace agreement. But history doesn't matter anymore. The old no-partner excuse has a new rationale: Hamas.

The movement has never enjoyed such diplomatic clout; not even after its landslide electoral victory in 2006 or when the Gaza takeover in 2007 secured it a veto right over the diplomatic process. True, Abbas knew he would need to secure Hamas' consent for any peace accord he might sign with Israel, but he hoped to circumvent this obstacle by holding an all-Palestinian referendum. Abbas never conditioned the continuation of the peace talks on an agreement with Hamas, and even now he holds that the reconciliation does not override the agreements between Israeli governments and the Palestinian Authority.

"This is not a Fatah or Hamas policy," he said only last week, "this is my policy." In other words, he sees no obstacle to continuing the peace talks. But what can he do when Netanyahu and Obama, in one of their rare and devastating moments of agreement, take away from him the right to negotiate and give veto power to Hamas?

In his speech to Congress, Netanyahu came up with a new magic formula, inviting Abbas to tear up the treaty with Hamas and saying Israel would be the first country to welcome Palestinian independence. How much can a person bluff? This is the same man who opposed the internationalization of the Palestinian question long before Hamas and Fatah reconciled. And which state is he going to recognize? In which borders? Without which settlements? Thanks to Obama, Netanyahu doesn't need to answer any of these questions. When there's no partner, any diplomatic proposal is strictly hypothetical.

This conditioning reminds one of the iron conditions Israel placed before Syrian President Bashar Assad: End the ties with Iran and then we'll talk. Israel doesn't care if Assad is a dictator butchering his own people; the important thing is that the little murderer cuts ties with the mega-threat. Here, too, Israel handed Iran veto power. And why should Syria break up with Iran if Israel never demanded the same of Turkey - which used to maintain an excellent relationship with both Israel and Iran? Today, because of the cooling of ties, Israel wouldn't even dare to ask Turkey to cut ties with Iran. Turkey would simply very blatantly ignore it.

Israel isn't alone; Washington also doesn't care who are the Turks' allies. It also doesn't mind having Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese government when it sends military aid to Lebanon, and it routinely makes pacts with the chiefs of local gangs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida, didn't trouble Washington as long as they served American policy.

If Netanyahu had any success at all in his Washington trip, it was thanks to his cementing of the no-partner strategy, which served his fraud so well, and will now serve Obama. The trouble here lies in the great gap between Netanyahu's success and Israel's good. A recent Haaretz survey gave Netanyahu a lot of satisfaction, no doubt, but you can't buy bread with a survey. Or make peace. But now you don't need to: There's Hamas.


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