RAMALLAH, August 25 (JMCC) - Now that Palestinians and Israelis are entering direct talks, there remains the outstanding question of how to handle Hamas. The movement remains outside the political process, writes Daniel Byman, and as long as it stays there is a potential spoiler for negotiations.
Byman argues that Hamas and Israel should strike a deal where Hamas would end all smuggling and rocket strikes in exchange for a complete lifting of the Gaza blockade.
Such a deal would allow Hamas to claim credit for improving the lives of Gazans, and it could use the resulting increase in the flow of goods to reward its supporters. For Israel, the regular rocket attacks would come to a complete halt and the threat of renewed attacks would diminish. A cease-fire would also free up Israel diplomatically. If the problem of Hamas receded, Israel could take more risks at the negotiating table with Abbas. Read
Palestinian moderates would rightly complain that Israel was rewarding violence. And if Gaza’s economy improved, the contrast between living conditions there and living conditions in the West Bank would become less stark, which would hurt Abbas politically. In order to offset any political gains Hamas might make, the international community should encourage efforts to provide law and order, reduce corruption, and otherwise build a state in the West Bank. This would help make Abbas’ government a true rival to Hamas when it came to governance.
Formalizing the cease-fire with Hamas would raise the question of whether Israel and moderate Palestinians were simply postponing an inevitable fight and allowing the enemy to get stronger. However, if the rocket attacks from Gaza resumed or if credible evidence emerged that Hamas was dramatically increasing its military capabilities, Israel would have a strong case for resuming the siege in a more comprehensive way or using force. The international community, therefore, must support not only the idea of formalizing the cease-fire but also Israel’s right to retaliate militarily if, despite Israel’s concessions, Hamas returned to violence.
the editorial at the International Herald Tribune