Because the Obama administration is keen to re-start negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered a 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has responded by demanding more - as a pre-condition, before he will talk. Just a guess: Netanyahu is not surprised.
Nor should anyone else be. It doesn't require Donald Trump to know that the art of the deal starts with an understanding of what each side wants. Yet for more than half a century, Western politicians and diplomats have built upon a mirage: the belief that because we see peace as a benefit, everyone in the Middle East must see it that way, too.
This assumption is mostly obviously false in regard to Hamas, which has ruled Gaza with an iron first since Israel withdrew from that territory in 2005. Hamas' leaders have been candid: They are fighting a jihad, a religious war. Their goal is the annihilation of Israel, an "infidel" nation occupying land Allah has endowed to the Muslims. A "two-state solution" or any other compromise is out of the question.
Under sufficient pressure, Hamas will accept a temporary truce as a way to gain time to rebuild its strength. But putting sufficient pressure on Hamas is problematic as illustrated by the U.N.'s recent Goldstone Report which accused Israel of war crimes for having responded to several years of non-stop rocket attacks with a military offensive - one that was cautious and limited by any objective standard.
Of course, serious people do not envision Israeli-Hamas negotiations. It is rather talks between Israel and Abbas -- who maintains tentative control of the West Bank -- which President Obama would like to get underway again.
But any agreement Abbas might strike with Israel, no matter how advantageous for average Palestinians, would be denounced by Hamas as not just a bad deal but an act of treachery and apostasy. Abbas' life would be in danger. If you were advising Abbas, what would you tell him? Probably, to do exactly what he is doing: Pocket any Israeli concessions the Americans can wring out of the Israelis while dismissing them as woefully insufficient; refuse to negotiate; but behind the scenes work with the Israelis on security - not least your own -- and economic development. If nothing else, that may prevent Hamas from gaining additional ground.
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