Palestinian Unity May Turn to Reality

With Peace Talks on Hold, Abbas Pushes Deal With Hamas

Let’s Make a Deal: With peace talks on hold for now, Mahmoud Abbas has little to lose by cutting a deal with Hamas. The Islamist group is showing signs of tempering its militancy in hopes of gaining a bigger slice of power.
getty images
Let’s Make a Deal: With peace talks on hold for now, Mahmoud Abbas has little to lose by cutting a deal with Hamas. The Islamist group is showing signs of tempering its militancy in hopes of gaining a bigger slice of power.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published February 09, 2012, issue of February 17, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

To understand the new unity agreement between the two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, it helps to recall the story of the village beggar and his cake.

It happened once that the village beggar asked the rabbi for a ruble to buy some food. An hour later the rabbi saw the beggar in the market, eating a slice of cake. Incensed, the rabbi rushed to rebuke him: “When I give you a ruble you should eat a meal, not cake!”

“Excuse me,” the beggar replied. “Yesterday I had no money, so I couldn’t eat cake. Today I have money, but I shouldn’t eat cake. Tell me, rabbi, when can I eat cake?”

That roughly describes Mahmoud Abbas’s Hamas problem. Ever since his Fatah party lost control of Gaza in a violent Hamas coup in 2007, the Palestinian Authority chief has been told by Israeli and Western critics that he isn’t a viable negotiating partner because he represents only half of a divided people. Whenever he’s nearly convinced Hamas to let him speak for Gaza, he’s been told he can’t be a viable partner if he’s tied to terrorists who don’t recognize Israel. How can he ever be a viable partner?

His solution has been a series of alternating negotiations, now with Israel, now with Hamas, cajoling each one toward some middle ground where they might coexist. In theory this means getting Hamas to agree to peaceful coexistence with Israel while getting Israel to grant concessions that make peace appealing to Hamas.

In practice, he’s been chasing his tail, getting nowhere. He’s forged a string of pacts with Hamas, each one touted as the big breakthrough, each one promptly collapsing over Hamas vows never to recognize Israel. The latest deal was signed in Qatar on February 6, followed the next day by the usual Hamas demurral. But this one might work.

Abbas’s efforts to win concessions from Israel have aroused deep Israeli suspicion — not surprising, considering his eagerness to partner with terrorists dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

Cynics might say Israel is stalling to avoid any concessions. In fact, former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered extensive concessions in 2008. Hamas wasn’t in the picture. Abbas didn’t make a counter-offer, partly because Olmert was facing indictment and it wasn’t clear who would replace him. Equally important, Abbas and his aides were struggling to draft a position on refugees. The Palestine Papers, internal negotiators’ memos leaked to Al Jazeera in 2011, show a Palestinian team groping for a formula that could reasonably address Israel’s needs without infuriating the Palestinian diaspora.

For all the uncertainties, though, one problem wasn’t worrying Abbas that fall: Hamas.

Hamas was on the ropes. A year after expelling Fatah from Gaza, it was economically suffocated and internationally isolated. A wave of rocket attacks on Israel in February 2008 had led to heavy Israeli air and ground reprisals. In April, the organization’s Damascus-based secretary general, Khaled Meshaal, sent a message to Washington through Jimmy Carter that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders” and a long-term truce with Israel, “but without recognizing Israel.” Meshaal repeated the message publicly in Arabic at a Damascus press conference.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.