Mutual non-recognition

There are two ways to understand Hamas’ long-term hudna proposal, the only political proposal Hamas has offered vis-a-vis Palestinian-Israeli relations since its election in January. One is that this is a tactical proposal whose aim is to avoid serious involvement in any meaningful political process and the mutual recognition that such a process entails.
The other is that Hamas is interested in being part of a political process but has drawn certain conclusions from the experience of failure so far in the political and peace processes between Israel and the Fateh-led PLO and Palestinian Authority.

The two main lessons that Hamas could have drawn from studying the previous experience is either that a final comprehensive peace agreement is not possible or that the security issue is the make or break issue. The first case would explain why, in all previous processes, final status issues were postponed until the end and when they were touched upon, like at Camp David in 2000, it led to the breakdown of the whole process and the resumption of confrontations.

The second case is an area where Hamas itself made it difficult for the previous Fateh-led PA to give the impression that it could fulfill its security commitments, in particular with regard to any kind of interim arrangement.

Judging by the details of the hudna proposal, and the limited but significant indirect exchange of views and ideas between the Israeli side and the Hamas government, it would appear that Hamas is trying to use its comparative advantage on the security level–as the party mostly involved in violent confrontations in spite of arrangements and agreements to the contrary by the PA–to convince Israel that if security really is the priority, then a PA dominated by Hamas in an official and legitimate way stands a better chance of fulfilling security obligations on the Palestinian side in future agreements.

The main reason Hamas cannot be part of any final and comprehensive deal is that it is not prepared to pay the political price. Recognizing Israel contradicts one of the cornerstones of its popularity and victory in elections.

But it seems that this is also correct as far as Israel is concerned. This Israeli government, like the previous one, is not prepared for any mutual recognition. In fact, this Israeli government is not prepared to accept the two-state solution and all it entails: recognizing the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independence in a state based on the 1967 borders.

Israel was willing to reach interim agreements with the previous Fateh-led PA without any commitment to a future Palestinian state. Since these failed, from the Israeli perspective, as a result of security problems, Israel might be attracted to more or less the same deal with a Hamas-led PA, if such a deal promises better guarantees on the security level. The main question then remains whether Israel, within the context of Hamas’ hudna proposal, is prepared to do what it has not so far been prepared to do: freeze its continuing illegal settlement expansion in occupied territory. That is the single most pertinent reason, from a Palestinian perspective, that interim agreements failed before, and without such a freeze no calm can prevail regardless of who is in charge of the PA.