Palestinian National Unity: A Challenge of Relevance

The Reut Institute contends that Israel should consider the unity government as the Palestinian "address", even if it does not fully comply with the three demands

Hamas and Fatah declared yesterday that they have reached an agreement to establish a national unity government based on the Document of National Accord (5/06) and the Arab peace initiative (3/02). Israel declared that it will continue to demand that the government of the PA comply with the "Three Demands": recognition of Israel, reaffirmation of existing agreements and cessation of terrorism.

The Reut Institute contends that Israel should consider the unity government as the Palestinian "address", even if it does not fully comply with the three demands.

What is the Issue?

The policy of the "Three Demands" was intended to either pressure Hamas into adhering to the demands or to bring about the collapse of its government.

However, the probability that Hamas will explicitly comply with the three demands is slim, and Israel may not have the ability to overthrow Hamas due to the PA constitutional system (see: Fatah: Not a Real Alternative to Hamas).

In the Document of National Accord and in the Arab Peace Initiative, which serve as the basis for the unity government, there is no explicit recognition of Israel. However, allegedly, such recognition is implied:

  • The Document of National Accord refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. However, the document does not recognize Israel's right to exist and promotes the continuation of the resistance of the occupation within the '67 borders by "all means available".
  • The Arab Initiative asserts that the establishment of a Palestinian state will lead to an Arab recognition of Israel. However, an explicit recognition regarding the Palestinians is not mentioned.

Hamas' control of the Palestinian legislative council (PLC) assures that even a unity government with Fatah will not enable policy that is not approved by the Hamas (see: No Palestinian address without Hamas).

Why is this important? Why now?

After the war in Lebanon and the publication of the report of the "Convergence Committee", it seems that Israel is lacking a political agenda vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The existence of the PA as an "address" is necessary in any political scenario: negotiation, unilateralism, or maintenance of the status quo.

The combination of the policy of the "Three Demands" and the absence of a political agenda is liable to bring to a strategic surprise in the form of the collapse of the PA, dissolving of the PA, a Third Intifada, or a new political initiative.

The government of the PA is the only that can act as a political "address" for Israel.

Without a significant presence of Hamas, the PA cannot act as an "address" (see: No Palestinian Address without Hamas)

A Palestinian unity government is likely to act as an "address" for Israel.

Policy Options

In light of the expected establishment of the unity government, Israel must reevaluate its policy towards the PA even without an explicit recognition of Israel. The main considerations in this context are:

"Address - Yes" - A Palestinian unity government which includes Fatah members is likely to allow Israel to work with the PA and strengthen its ability to become an "address" in Gaza and the West Bank.

"Partner - no" - It is doubtful if the Document of National Accord can serve as a basis for negotiations. The Accord apparently contradicts the Roadmap and is a setback to the basic principles of the political process.

Don't stay alone - Israel's policy may become irrelevant if the international community conducts itself opposite to the unity government.