How Will The Quartet Respond To The PA and Hamas Deal?
The manner in which the world, and in particular the Quartet, responds to the emerging Hamas-Fatah reconciliation will be of prime importance in dictating whether the Middle East will move within the next few months from a situation of no peace to one of all-out war.
If Hamas is allowed by the international community to integrate into the Palestinian Authority without being made to renounce its armed campaigns and without being obliged to recognise Israel's existence, the already terminally ill peace process will come to a very rapid demise. Not only will Israel not negotiate with a Palestinian government which contains terrorist elements, but the terms of the Roadmap, which up to now have formed the foundations of negotiations, will become devoid of any further relevance.
That, of course, would suit Hamas perfectly; it has done all in its power to scupper the peace process for many years and by its very definition rejects all negotiations intended to lead to a two-state solution. However, it also suits Fatah which, despite dodging the negotiating table with considerable alacrity since negotiations resumed last autumn, received a serious blow to its already bruised credibility on the Palestinian street with the release of the leaked 'Palestine Papers' and is increasingly threatened by internal discord.
If Fatah ever really did intend the peace negotiations to be more than lip-service to its cheque-writing patrons in the international community (and the rejection of the 2008 Olmert offer would suggest very strongly that it had no such intentions), its weakness means that it is currently unable to pursue anything other than the rejectionist stance as represented not only by Hamas, but by a considerable proportion of the Palestinian elite and in particular, those living outside the region.
Thus we see the PA intending to bring a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood to the United Nations in September 2011 which will not only automatically annul both the Oslo accords and the Roadmap, but also run contrary to UN resolutions 242 and 338. Mahmoud Abbas' case at the UN will be considerably stronger if he is able to present himself as head of a united Palestinian people rather than a president whose term of office long since expired and who lost control of a considerable portion of his territory.
For that to happen, Abbas needs Hamas in his camp and he will therefore make concessions such as the release of Hamas prisoners held by the PA and the integration of Hamas into the PA security forces in order to secure that goal. Whether or not the promised elections will indeed take place around eight months from now – after the September watershed, of course – remains to be seen. In fact Abbas' own survival after September is very much a moot point given that the emerging reconciliation would strengthen Hamas' presence in PA controlled areas, along with that of numerous other currently dormant other terror groups and armed militias.
If, therefore, the international community now chooses to accept the Hamas – Fatah reconciliation and - despite its own laws against funding terror – continues to fund the PA in preparation for a September unilateral declaration of statehood, the possibility that such a state will be born a terror state is very high. With 300,000 of its citizens rendered overnight dependent for their survival upon the caprices of such an unstable regime by virtue of UN recognition of armistice lines as international borders, Israel will not be able to stand idly by.
If, by any chance, there are those among the international community who believe that some sort of international peace-keeping force employed as a buffer between Israel and the newly-declared Palestinian state will prevent the deterioration of the already fragile security situation into one of all-out war, they need only look as far as the ignominious history of the similar international experiment in Lebanon in the form of UNIFIL in order to comprehend why that would be no panacea.
The inevitable result of a UN stamped and sealed unilaterally-declared Palestinian state will be anything on the spectrum ranging from a return to the days of the second Intifada to all-out war, possibly with the participation of as yet unknown regimes in surrounding countries such as Egypt and Syria, as well as Hizbollah.
The international community, and in particular the midwife of the peace process – the Quartet – must therefore urgently decide which route it intends to take. Approval for the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation in its current (and the only possible) form means eulogising the peace process once and for all. Supporting the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN in September also means an end to the chances of any form of negotiated peaceful solution to the conflict and will by definition render the continued existence of the Quartet completely irrelevant.
The ball is now very firmly in the court of the members of the Quartet and their decisions in the next few weeks will determine whether or not September 2011 will bring yet more unnecessary bloodshed to the Middle East.
Hadar Sela is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist