Leading article: An opportunity for peace that must not be squandered

The EU made a serious mistake five years ago when it refused to recognise Hamas

Share
Related Topics

The Arab Spring has delivered yet another unexpected twist. Fatah and Hamas, the two warring factions of Palestinian politics, have agreed to a unity deal. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, claimed yesterday that the two leaderships were panicked into the deal by popular revolts across the Arab world, implying that Fatah and Hamas face the same sort of internal opposition as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This is not very convincing. The unification is actually very popular among Palestinians. There were demonstrations in Gaza earlier this month calling for such a political reconciliation.

And it is the Israeli government that gives the greater impression of panic. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has responded to the deal by evoking the spectre of Hamas taking over the West Bank as well as Gaza. And Mr Lieberman has issued wild threats to withhold the delivery of tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

The consequences of this reconciliation for the peace process are, as yet, unclear. Theoretically, it should be a positive development. Palestinian political unification will undercut the familiar argument from the Israeli side that, with the Palestinians divided politically, there is no credible partner for peace. It could also supply extra momentum to the Palestinian bid to win recognition for a state (within the 1967 borders) in the United Nations General Assembly, planned for later this year.

Yet, in practice, the incorporation of Hamas ministers into the Palestinian government will also give the Israeli government a fresh reason to resist pressure to hold serious negotiations. While Mr Netanyahu had no good reason to refuse to deal with Fatah, Hamas's refusal to renounce violence gives him free rein to be obstructive. It is too difficult to say at this stage which force – the drive for unity, or the anti-Hamas reaction – will prove the stronger.

Much will depend on the question of how far Hamas is willing (or able) to moderate its official position with respect to Israel. Does this deal indicate that the group's leadership is prepared to sign up to the preconditions that have long been demanded of it by the international community, namely to renounce violence, to recognise Israel and to respect previous treaties?

The response of the international community will also be important. The United States and the European Union must decide whether to welcome the unification as a positive development, or to adopt the knee-jerk hostility of the Israeli government. The initial reaction from Democrat and Republican legislators in America, where both have echoed the Israeli response, has been disappointing. But the reaction from European capitals has, thus far, been less negative. That is an encouraging sign.

The EU made a serious mistake in the wake of the 2006 Palestinian elections, when it agreed, under Israeli and US pressure, to make ultra-strict demands of the victorious Hamas in exchange for recognition. Rather than working with the legitimately elected Hamas administration, the EU helped to push it on to the sidelines. After five years, it should be clear to all that freezing Hamas out of negotiations is not going to make the movement disappear. The history of all previous intractable conflicts demonstrates that peace comes through sitting down with enemies, not ostracising them.

The Middle East is in ferment. Regimes that looked rock-solid only months ago are tottering. Assumptions across the region are being challenged. This creates dangers, but also opportunities. Israel and the international community should seize the opportunity that they missed five years ago and attempt to lock Hamas into a peaceful negotiation process.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform