Monday, October 24, 2011

Who do we talk to?

Several months ago, a reconciliation agreement was signed between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. It was agreed to end the long conflict between them, with the intention of establishing a single government to represent all Palestinians and hold new elections in which Palestinians will be able to freely express their wishes. Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a furious reply, stating that if the Palestinian reconciliation agreement implemented and a government established which includes Hamas, Israel would immediately sever all contact with the PA and no longer regard it a partner for negotiation (if and when negotiations resume...) .

As we know today, at almost exactly the same time there was a major breakthrough in the negotiations conducted the same Binyamin Netanyahu with the same Hamas movement, regarding an exchange of prisoners. A new Hamas proposal,  passed on to the  government of Israel, has indicated a significant degree of flexibility, and paved the way for implementing the exchange last week and the home-coming of Gilead Shalit.

There is something strange here, not entirely consistent. It is no surprise that in the opinion  poll conducted last week among  a sample of Israeli citizens,  no less than 79% expressed themselves in favor of Israel embarking on official negotiations with Hamas, also without resorting to Egyptian or German mediators. Of course, the results of an opinion poll are not binding on the government. Yet what would Netanyahu say if and when the Palestinians actually establish a joint government of Fatah and Hamas? "No, no, out of the question. We will never, never talk to these people, we are opposed in principle totalks with Hamas?" It somehow does not sound quite believable.