Boy oh boy, Jews say the darnedest things, don’t they? You’ve got to love it. We’ve been hearing for years now that the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas isn’t capable of making peace with Israel even if it wants to because, among other things, it doesn’t speak for Hamas, which controls Gaza (see here, here and here, for example).
It’s a bit confusing, I know, but life is like that. For the moment, the best response would be to make sure they put air-sickness bags in front of the seats in shul alongside the chumashim tomorrow morning, in case congregants start to experience vertigo from the sudden, abrupt shifts in position..
It’s like the old joke about the beggar who asks the rabbi for a ruble to buy a meal. Later that day the rabbi walks past the inn and sees the beggar eating a big slice of cake. “This is how you waste my money?!” the rabbi demands. “Excuse me,” the beggar replies. “Yesterday I couldn’t eat cake because I had no money. Today I have money but you tell me I shouldn’t eat cake. Tell me, rabbi, when can I eat cake?”
Now, as soon as the deal was announced yesterday, my mailbox started filling up with evidence that it had killed any hopes for the peace process, which presumably was thriving up to now. Exhibit A was this statement by Mahmoud a-Zahar, the Hamas foreign minister, who said it would “not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel.” The morning after (today) reinforcements started arriving in the form of links to this statement by Zahar’s boss, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, calling on Fatah to renounce its recognition of “the Zionist entity.”
On second thought, though, this actually indicates that stopping the peace process was not part of deal. If it were, Haniyeh wouldn’t need to be asking for it now.
Did I say “asking”? Hamas usually issues demands, not requests. But this time it’s not a deal-breaker. In fact, Haniyeh added in the same breath that, in the Post’s words, “he believed the deal between Hamas and Fatah would hold up this time because of the changing environment in the Arab world and the lessons learned from past experience.” If he were planning on sinking the thing in the next few days he wouldn’t be announcing its immutability. It seems that Hamas is entering this deal as the weaker party. (The counter-argument, that Hamas is the winner, is offered here by the Post’s Khaled Abu-Toameh. Check it out — his basic argument is that Hamas wins because it’s not swept from power despite its rapidly declining position. I suppose that’s a sort of victory, but frankly I hadn’t heard that Hamas’s survival was that tenuous until this moment.)
On the flip side, Palestine Authority chief Abbas himself weighed in on the matter yesterday with a public declaration that the Fatah-Hamas unity deal and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had “nothing to do with each other” and that the peace process, such as it is, could continue unimpeded. But hey, what does he know? He’s just the Palestinian president.
You could argue that his status has changed. Two days ago, he was the president of the Palestinian Authority with control over the West Bank but no traction in Gaza, which limited his credibility. Now Palestine-Gaza has recognized him as its president, which makes his credibility—um, less? Wait a minute…
Anyway, who are you going to believe, the president of the Palestinians or the foreign minister of Palestinians’ Gaza subdivision? I know where I put my money. In fact, I’ve always advised young reporters to take the word of lower-ranking officials more seriously because they’re less inclined to be spinning. Unless, of course, it’s the foreign minister of Israel, who is just a loud-mouthed buffoon who got his job for coalition reasons and doesn’t speak for anybody, certainly not the Israeli government or people. Yes, that’s it. Israeli foreign minister: Not authoritative. Hamas foreign minister: Authoritative.
If I didn’t know better, I might begin to suspect that the self-styled realists in the pro-Israel camp are willing to say anything that comes to mind if it reduces the likelihood of Israel yielding sovereignty over the hills where the patriarchs trod. But that would be unfair, I guess.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).