Once it is sworn into office, Israel's new government will immediately have to go on a diplomatic offensive.
This month, under Egyptian sponsorship, Hamas and Fatah began negotiating the formation of a Palestinian unity government that, if agreed upon, will run the affairs of the Palestinian Authority. From what can be gleaned from media accounts of the proceedings, it is clear Hamas will control the government and Fatah will operate as a junior partner responsible for keeping up international monetary support for the PA. Hamas will not recognize Israel. And Fatah and Hamas militias will be unified in some manner and end all cooperation and coordination with Israel.
In short, if formed, the new Palestinian government will be nothing more than a Hamas-Fatah terror consortium committed to waging continuous war against Israel.
By all accounts, the international community, including the Obama administration, will recognize and support this government if and when it is established. Egypt halted the talks last week and sent emissaries to Washington and Brussels to secure American and European support for it.
General Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, flew to Washington to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit jetted off to Brussels where he made the same case to EU foreign policy boss Javier Solana. That their missions were successful was made clear by the announcement that the Hamas-Fatah negotiations were to resume this week.
Moreover, after meeting with Gheit, Solana threatened the incoming Netanyahu government that it will suffer international isolation if it does not join Europe, the U.S. and the Arab world in embracing the establishment of a Palestinian state as its chief goal in office. In doing so, Solana signaled that as far as Europe is concerned, the nature of the Palestinian government is immaterial. The only side that will be blamed for Palestinian aggression will be Israel.
In Washington too, things are going Hamas's way. President Barak Obama's Middle East mediator, George Mitchell, has called for the administration to support a Hamas-Fatah government. Former senior officials with close ties to the administration like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Lee Hamilton are publicly calling for U.S. recognition of Hamas.
Given the increased likelihood that the U.S. (and the EU) will recognize Hamas, one of the swiftly emerging challenges for the incoming Netanyahu government will be how to contend with the new reality.
As it stands, the incoming government is operating at a severe deficit. Both outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and outgoing Foreign Minister (and Kadima leader) Tzipi Livni have made it clear they will side with the U.S. and Europe against their own government.
Livni joined the campaign to isolate the incoming government when, like Solana, she claimed Netanyahu's refusal to endorse the so-called "two-state solution" rendered him an extremist with whom she could not cooperate.
On Sunday evening Olmert attacked outgoing Defense Minister (and Labor Party leader) Ehud Barak for his willingness to join the Netanyahu government. In Olmert's words, "Anyone who consciously walks into a government that does not believe in two states for two peoples is likely to force Israel into an isolation it has not seen since its establishment."
Statements like these from Kadima's leaders make it difficult for Netanyahu to withstand claims by the likes of Scowcroft, Mitchell and British Foreign Minister David Miliband that the time has come to recognize Hamas. But even with the likes of Olmert and Livni siding with foreign governments against him, Netanyahu will still have one option — and he will have to use it.
Netanyahu and his government will have to exert unrelenting pressure on the U.S. and individual European governments to end their recognition of Hamas. He and his colleagues will need to make constant reference to Hamas's terror activities and to it genocidal covenant. They will have to repeatedly recall its ties to Iran and its likeness to al Qaeda. They will need to condemn calls by the Israeli Left to recognize Hamas and use the bully pulpit in Israel to attack their political opponents for working against the interests of the state.
We have been here before. In December 1988, prodded by the incoming Bush administration and the American Jewish Left, the lame duck Reagan administration opened a dialogue with the PLO, which it claimed had accepted Israel's right to exist and foresworn terror.
Following the U.S. move, the Shamir government used every opportunity to point out that the PLO had not given up terrorism and had not in fact accepted Israel's right to exist. The pressure the Israeli government exerted on the Bush administration compelled it to break off ties with the PLO in June 1990 after the PLO committed a terror attack in Israel.
The country that in the end legitimized the PLO was Israel – with the September 1993 Oslo agreement – not the U.S. When then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized the PLO and brought Yasir Arafat to Gaza, he did more than pave the road to the White House in gold for Arafat. By telling the U.S. to embrace the PLO, Israel found itself without recourse when — in the space of just a few weeks from the euphoric signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden — the PLO resumed its war against Israel, transforming the areas Israel had transferred to its control into the largest terror training bases in the world.
After Oslo, discrediting the PLO meant discrediting the Israeli Left, which embraced the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Since the Left has dominated most Israeli governments since 1993 and has retained control over the media, this was a non-starter. And so even when Fatah – the PLO's governing faction — openly colludes with Hamas, as it is currently doing in the negotiations toward the formation of a Hamas-dominated government, the Israeli Left feels compelled to uphold it as legitimate and to overlook its hostile behavior.
The most stunning example of the Israeli Left's refusal to criticize Fatah came last week when Fatah security chief Muhammad Dahlan gave an interview to PA television where he explained the nature of the PLO/Fatah's deception of Israel.
Fatah, Dahlan explained, has never recognized Israel. In his words, "We [Fatah] are not asking Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. Rather, we are asking Hamas not to do so because Fatah never recognized Israel's right to exist."
What Dahlan's remarks made clear is that the PLO's recognition of Israel was an optical illusion. Without its constituent factions, the PLO is an empty shell. And its constituent factions did not recognize Israel. Dahlan then explained that the Hamas-Fatah government will operate under the same principle. Hamas will join the PLO. Hamas will form a government with Fatah. Both terror groups will recognize PLO agreements with Israel and both will continue to wage war against Israel as Hamas and Fatah – rather than as the Palestinian government.
It might be thought that Dahlan's admission of premeditated and continuous bad faith would have elicited a strong reaction from Israel. But no such thing occurred. Aside from the Jerusalem Post, no Israeli media outlet mentioned the interview. Neither did any Israeli leftist politician.
And this makes sense. Acknowledging what Dahlan said would require a parallel Israeli acknowledgement that Israel's strategy for the past 16 years has been based on a complete lie. It would also make Israel even more unpopular internationally since Fatah is the toast of every town in the Western world.
It is this state of affairs that must be avoided at all costs with Hamas. Israel must give no quarter in this debate. And who kno
ws — if it holds the line on Hamas while pointing out the significance of Fatah's collusion with the Iranian proxy, perhaps by the time the next terror campaign inevitably commences Israel will have finally begun to erode Fatah's international reputation.
Originally published in The Jewish Press.