Do not disturb

Editorial

Haaretz

Tishrei 20, 5766

The attempt to read the facial expression of the U.S. president and the tone of his statements in order to determine whether the visit of the Palestinian leader to Washington was a success, like the secret hope for it to fail, is a sign that the Israeli approach to the Palestinians has not changed significantly.

When it comes to a peace-seeking leader like Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, it is doubtful that a Palestinian failure in the United States is a victory for Israeli interests. There is an interdependent relationship at work here: Abbas seeks an end to the violence and the holding of legitimate elections for the Palestinian parliament, which will advance the process of creating a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state. It is superfluous to point out that this goal is clearly in Israel's interest as well.

The Israeli leadership rejoices, for some reason, at every sign of delay in the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel. The assumption is that the Americans are too busy to deal with it, that their agenda is filled with more critical matters, such as Iraq and Syria. In answer to a question about the timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state, President George W. Bush gave a partly religious response: "I believe that two democratic states living side by side in peace is possible. I can't tell you when it's going to happen." Later on, he said it may not happen during his presidential term.

Even if the statement was intended to pressure the Palestinians to disarm the militant organizations quickly, in order to follow the route prescribed in the road map, it is doubtful that lowering expectations is the desired approach. Every postponement perpetuates Palestinian fighting against the continuation of the occupation and the regime of checkpoints, the inability to determine defensible borders and the growth of one more generation of people under occupation who hate their occupiers. Israel has no reason to encourage a postponement of an agreed separation into two states, especially after the first step in this plan has already been taken in Gaza, and there would be no point in delaying its continuation for generations, or even a few years.

During his visit, Abbas managed to obtain American agreement for Hamas' participation in the Palestinian elections. In other words, Israel will have to restrain itself from disturbing the elections in the hope that, after the election of a parliament that the Palestinians will see as legitimate and representing the entire range of attitudes and sectors of society, Abbas will be able to disarm Hamas using nonviolent means and that the organization will gradually turn into a political party.

Israel's desire to take Hamas out of the political game is apparently not in keeping with reality. Israel's indelicate interference in the Palestinian elections, as punishment for Hamas' participation in them, will only further weaken Abbas.

In this matter, at least, the American position seems clear. Hamas' participation in the election should not be viewed as a concession on the demand to stop the terror. Rather, it should be seen as an attempt to reach the same goal using different means. To Abbas, too, it is clear that no diplomatic process can be carried out under fire, and his intention to achieve calm through democratic means is deserving of trust and support at least for a limited period. Israel's role at this stage is not to disturb.