Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking during a visit to London on May 1, said the accord was a “tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism.” And at a meeting with Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair, he said it “strikes a serious blow to the peace process…. How is it possible to achieve peace with a government, half of which calls for the destruction of Israel and even praises the arch-murderer Osama Bin Laden?”
But yesterday (May 4), Ha’Aretz reported that an internal, confidential Foreign Ministry report took a different view. It stated that the creation of a Fatah–Hamas unity government would offer Israel a strategic opportunity.
“The Palestinian move is not only a security threat but also a strategic opportunity to create genuine change in the Palestinian context,” the report states. “Such change may serve the long-term interests of Israel.”
The report was delivered earlier this week to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Ministry Director General Rafael Barak and other senior figures. It was prepared by the ministry’s policy planning division, which is staffed by career diplomats and is responsible for formulating foreign policy recommendations.
Instead of counseling blanket opposition to a Palestinian unity government, the authors of the report recommend that Israel adopt a “constructive approach that would sharpen the dilemma on the Palestinian side” regarding the aims of such a government and Hamas’ unwillingness to recognize Israel. The report recommends a measured Israeli response to the potential formation of a Palestinian unity government that takes into consideration the need to address Palestinian plans to seek international recognition for a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly in September
The authors of the report believe that a more positive approach to Palestinian reconciliation efforts would help to improve relations between Jerusalem and Washington. “Israel must be a team player and coordinate its response to a Palestinian unity government with the administration,” the report states. “This will empower the United States and serve Israeli interests…. At the current stage, prior to the confirmation of the agreement, Israel must be careful in its policy and declarations,” the report states in an indirect critique of Netanyahu.
The report includes a series of recommendations. Topping the list is the continuation of security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, “which is in Israel’s interest and has resulted in a dramatic drop in terrorism.” The report also recommends that Israel should ask the international community to set detailed criteria for the proposed new Palestinian government.
It also recommended that an official delegation be sent to Cairo, in order to heighten coordination with Egypt’s interim government. Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s envoy for the peace process, is slated to travel to Cairo Sunday to meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi and other senior figures.
Netanyahu will meet with his British counterpart, David Cameron, in London today before traveling to Paris tomorrow for a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Netanyahu is expected to ask his colleagues to express opposition to a Palestinian unity government and to contribute to blocking the expected demand for international recognition of an independent state at the UN General Assembly in the fall.
Both Britain and France have expressed their support for Palestinian reconciliation and are leaning toward supporting international recognition for a Palestinian state in September.