x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A post-Netanyahu Israel might reach out to Hamas

Shaul Mofaz, the deputy leader of Israel's Kadima party who now views himself as a future prime minister, said on Sunday that the Israeli government should be prepared to negotiate directly with Hamas in the event that they gain electoral victory following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abass' retirement from politics. Mr Mofaz was laying out his own proposal for a peace plan since so far none has been forthcoming from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shaul Mofaz, deputy leader of Israel's Kadima party and a former IDF chief of staff who now views himself as a future prime minister, said on Sunday that the Israeli government should be prepared to negotiate directly with Hamas in the event that they gain electoral victory following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abass' predicted retirement from politics. Mr Mofaz was laying out his own proposal for a peace plan since so far none has been forthcoming from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "How can it be that six months have passed since Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan [University] address [where he accepted in principle the existence of a Palestinian state] and there is still no plan in place?" Mr Mofaz said at a news conference in Tel Aviv, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. "If Netanyahu won't implement this plan, I will do so when I become prime minister," he said. Mr Mofaz said that under his plan a Palestinian state would be established within one year, initially on 60 per cent of the West Bank. As many as 65,000 Jewish settlers now living in isolated settlements would need to be relocated while the larger settlement blocs would be annexed in exchange for Israeli territory. A final Palestinian state, Mr Mofaz said, would be on at least 92 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza. The proposal drew mixed responses from Hamas officials. "Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Ma'an the proposal was 'a malicious Israeli attempt to take advantage of the state of Palestinian disunity, to beautify the occupation, and to exploit opportunities to divide us.' " 'We don't believe in negotiations with [Israel] - negotiations that would legitimise the occupation of our land and holy places - to clean up its image internationally and cover up its crimes,' he said in a phone interview, as talks 'would amount to repeating a failed two-decade experiment that has benefited only the occupation.' "Barhoum noted that Mofaz' plan came suspiciously in tandem with Abbas' retirement, the timing of which he said was yet another reason to reject the proposal. 'The best way we can respond to these proposals is to fortify the home front by finalizing [Hamas-Fatah] conciliation, and recommit ourselves to Palestinian rights, the national project, and resistance.'" The proposal was not however uniformly dismissed. "Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri told Ynet in response to Mofaz's plan, 'This is a very important step, but we are interested in its translation from talk into action.' " 'Obviously, such comments carry a lot of weight when they come from someone of Mofaz's stature - a man who went to war against Hamas and the resistance and is familiar with the issue's political and security-related aspects,' said al-Masri. "The senior Hamas figure said he would not dismiss any offer 'if it is based on the recognition of the basic rights of the Palestinian people and its right to be rid of occupation. " 'The Israelis realise that we (Hamas) are a key player in the political arena. It would be a mistake to ignore Hamas and deal solely with (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas,' he said." Ma'an reported: "These comments, in turn, triggered a reaction from Hamas' rival, Fatah. Party spokesman Ahmad Asaf expressed his astonishment at the hasty welcoming of Mofaz's call to hold negotiations. "Asaf noted in a statement that Fatah rejected Mofaz's proposal of a state within temporary borders and others which he said are aimed at destroying national aspirations and violating the Palestinian right to self-determination calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, and which disregard solving the issue of Palestinian refugees in relation to international law. "The spokesman added that, 'Fatah is embracing what President Abbas stated in his latest speech in which he stressed that there can be no return to negotiations unless all settlements are stopped and the perquisites for the peace process are installed.' "Asaf further remarked that, 'While the Palestinian leadership represented by President Abbas rejected all of the Israeli proposals and pressures that are supported in the region and in the US, we find representatives of Hamas like Mushir Al-Masri rushing off to describe the Mofaz proposal as 'an important step' which Hamas will deal with seriously.' "Asaf continued to state that, 'These developments that have come about quickly after President Abbas' speech confirmed what Fatah had warned of: there are Palestinian factions whose interests are the same as the Israelis, intent on weakening the legitimate Palestinian leadership.'" Haaretz indicated what kind of political strategy may lie behind Mr Mofaz' plan and its role in his contest with Tzipi Livni for leadership of the Kadima party. "From a political standpoint, Mofaz is signaling that he has no interest in returning to Likud and that he seeks to make a bid for the leadership of Kadima. "His proposal for the Palestinian state would presumably be part of his platform for that campaign. "At the same time, Mofaz is working to bring forward the date of the Kadima primaries, an effort that Livni has managed to stop for the time being. In private conversations, Mofaz has expressed confidence that the primaries will take place in about 18 months. "Kadima sources have said they are not ruling out the possibility that Mofaz views his plan as a basis upon which Kadima would join the governing coalition, and that he could force such a move on Livni. "Mofaz developed his proposal following consultations with figures in the defense establishment, the heads of think tanks and politicians. He contends that the stalemate in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is dangerous from a demographic standpoint and with respect to Israel's legitimacy in the world." In a commentary for CNN, Fawaz A Gerges noted that there are indications that Hamas is in the process of a significant political reorientation. "Something is stirring within the Hamas body politic, a moderating trend that, if nourished and engaged, could transform Palestinian politics and the Arab-Israeli peace process. There are unmistakable signs that the religiously based radical movement has subtly changed its uncompromising posture on Israel. "For example, in the last few months top Hamas officials have publicly stressed that they want to be part of the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not part of the problem. What is happening inside Hamas' mosques and social base shows a concerted effort on the part of its leadership to re-educate its rank and file about co-existence with the Jewish state and in so doing mentally prepare them for a permanent settlement in the future."

pwoodward@thenational.ae