Hold the Position
I appreciate Mr. Silberthau’s concurrence that Hamas is a dangerous entity, and I wholeheartedly agree that the current Israel-Palestine dynamic is a necessarily frustrating and unfortunately deadly quagmire. In recent years, there have existed two seemingly separate conflicts: one between Israel and the moderate leaders of the West Bank, and one between Israel and the radical terrorists who control the Gaza Strip.
One possible escape plan, as alluded to recently by Senator Rand Paul, consisted of treating these separate issues as such; in other words, reaching separate long-term peace agreements with the West Bank and Gaza. The thinking was that Fatah leaders like Mahmoud Abbas had no significant control, theoretical or demonstrable, over the actions of Hamas, and thus the respective Palestinian territories were functionally separate. In short, Abbas and allies seemingly had no legitimacy to negotiate on behalf of the people of the Gaza Strip.
However, all of this changed and this decades-old quagmire was made all the more entrapping by a recent agreement amongst the Palestinians. Specifically, the deal established a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, uniting both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under a monolithic de jure banner. Unfortunately for the leaders of the West Bank, and unfortunately for the hopes of a permanent Israeli/Palestinian peace, the signing of this agreement was an entrance into a politically perilous spider web.
Let us take Fatah at their word. If they and Hamas are now monolithic and the Gaza Strip is truly run by this government, then the more moderate West Bank leaders who once commanded at least some political respect from Israel and the West are now culpable for atrocities and terrorism committed by Hamas under their watch, as it were. Now of course the West Bank and Gaza are in observable truth not nearly so politically united: Hamas has continued to dominate Gaza exclusively since the signing of the pact. In addition, Hamas has shown no sign, either in the lead-up to the current conflict in Gaza or the combat proper, to change their practices or tactics. Of course, there is the unlikely possibility that Hamas could abandon militancy and terrorism at some point and thus truly join such a unity government, but that is mere hypothesis until actually enacted.
So we are left with the de facto reality that the leaders of the West Bank and Gaza would like to be truly united, or at least appear to be united. The current situation negates either possibility for the time being, and so one might think that Israel should press forward with the “divide and negotiate” strategy. However, in light of this unity deal, currently symbolic though it may be, Israel should simply choose to hold no long-term negotiations with either Palestinian faction so long as the deal stands (although combat ceasefire negotiations with Hamas should naturally remain on the table). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was correct to reject the unity government from its beginnings and the idea of negotiations with it, and this should be Israel’s continued policy.
Israel has the political, military, and moral backbone to refuse to negotiate with a government that by its own admission includes a terrorist organization. This is not a Bushian case of “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists”, it is a case of “you are, by your own stated choice, unambiguously with the terrorists”. As such, Israel should wait for one of two things to happen before entering any formal negotiations with the Palestinians: either the unity government is dissolved, or Hamas renounces terrorism. Importantly, Israel has unshakeable American political support for such a holding pattern; recently, the US Senate (everyone from Ted Cruz to Bernie Sanders) unanimously approved a resolution condemning Hamas and calling for the dissolution of the unity government. This is not stalling; this is Israel not being intimidated by a crude Palestinian gambit. Until such a development, the leaders of Israel are both morally correct and strategically wise in doing nothing more than continuing to protect the Jewish State and its people.