I visited Israel at the end of June, after the three yeshiva students were kidnapped but before their bodies were found, before the Palestinian teen was murdered in a revenge attack, before the air strikes and the ground war and the horrific death toll in Gaza. Before it all fell apart.
It seems like a century ago now.
As glum as the situation was even then, in that momentary stasis, I was occasionally offered a glimpse of a way forward. I remember sitting across a small table from Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, who understands his public’s opinion as well as anyone. He outlined why the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah — not a unity government but a political agreement, “a marriage of convenience” as he called it — could actually benefit a peace process that had gone dormant.
The Palestinian Authority in general, and especially its President Mahmoud Abbas, gained in popularity when the agreement was announced, Shikaki said. Abbas was positioning himself for elections he hoped to win, thereby removing Hamas from governing Gaza and satisfying a Palestinian desire for unity while allying Israeli claims that peace wasn’t possible as long as Hamas was in power. Besides, he noted, the public doesn’t want another intifada.
This more generous view of Palestinian maneuvering was not shared by the Israeli government, which condemned the agreement outright. But it was reflected in the United States’s tepid, tentative approval of the reconciliation pact, and sitting there in a quiet office, across from a knowledgeable and distinguished academic, I could almost imagine it leading somewhere positive.
But even then, the signs were ominous. Already, five Palestinians had been killed in the Israeli hunt for the kidnapped teens, and emotions were turning raw. Israelis were on edge as rockets continued to fly in from Gaza.
“Diplomacy has failed both Israelis and Palestinians,” Shikaki said ruefully. The kidnapping could lead to “greater anarchy and perhaps violence.”
Do you see any diplomatic opportunities, I asked him? He took a deep breath.