THE BLOG
05/03/2011 05:54 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2011

Hamas, bin Laden and Palestinian-Israeli Peace

Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, claiming to be the true, genuine representatives of the Palestinian people, condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden. No other than the PM of the Hamas Gaza government, Ismail Haniyye, related to the "Holy Arab warrior" no room for misunderstandings, and Hamas deserves credit for clearly reaffirming their Jihadist ideology.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian PM, based in Ramallah, issued a totally different statement, hailing the American operation. So, who speaks for the Palestinians on an issue of such a magnitude? In the absence of a reliable poll, we can safely guess that the two leaders speak for their respective audiences, as the Palestinian population is split over this issue. Just recently, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by President Abbas and PM Fayyad, signed a reconciliation agreement, designed to bring about unity between Gaza and the West Bank, under a government of national unity. So, the question is, how can this agreement be reconciled with the totally divergent positions of the two Palestinian movements towards bin Laden's legacy and the peace process?

This is not a question relevant to Hamas, as this organization made it abundantly clear that their fundamental objection to the notion of peace with Israel is unshakeable. It is simply impossible to support bin Laden and be for peace. So, the players to watch are the PA, the Netanyahu government in Israel and the Obama administration.

President Abbas has consistently argued in recent days that the PA has an undisputed right to sign whatever agreement they wish with Hamas, insisting on the traditional principle of independent Palestinian decision. They are right, but then they need to prove that doing so doesn't compromise both their desire and ability to maintain the current security cooperation with the Israelis in the West Bank and move on with negotiations. There are no signs as yet that there is any change with regard to the former, while questions linger as to the latter.

Abbas will need to mobilize all his diplomatic skills to dispel the impression that he lost hope on the peace process. His actions will speak volumes, but with the current climate of instability and fear in the Middle East, words are also of significance. This is a combination that ought to be pursued also by the Netanyahu government in Israel. Their instinctive reaction to the Hamas-PA Agreement was understandable but erroneous. Statements like "we told you so", "there is no Palestinian partner", "another nail in the coffin of the peace process", etc., while reflecting a desire to score PR points, particularly in the US, are counterproductive. They imply that Israel is off the hook now, being exempted from the need to move on with the peace process, due to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

This is wrong. Israel should test Abbas' commitment to the peace process by reaffirming its acceptance of the principle of a two-state solution, alongside it presenting a full-fledged peace plan including possible solutions to core issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees (Arab and Jewish), settlements and final borders, and from Netanyahu's perspective, the sooner he outlines such a concrete plan, the better. Abbas should have a tangible proof of Israel's intentions as he deals with Hamas.

Israel and the US cannot decide for the Palestinians; at most they can help them make their decisions, and that can be achieved by presenting them with alternatives to Hamas' total rejectionist ideology. Having discussed Israel, what about the Obama administration? In the aftermath of the bin Laden killing, the US regained a lot of lost prestige, something that was noticeable following the hesitant and confused response to the upheavals in many Arab countries. Both Netanyahu and Abbas may now have second thoughts about the US role in the Middle East, and the Obama administration should take advantage and be active with the following principles in mind; both sides should refrain from unilateral steps. Talks will start immediately, with a specific timetable for their completion. The format of the talks is less important than their contents, which should include all the core issues. While the talks are on, all the existing understandings/arrangements between Israel and the PA will be strictly adhered to. Sure enough, easier said than done, but the stakes are high, too high to be ignored.