Hazem Saghieh

Hamas and Netanyahu’s Roles as Representatives is the Issue

As has become clear for all to see, there are two stages in the negotiations regarding Palestine-Israel: The first deals with an immediate question of security, and it is essentially aimed at bringing about a six-week ceasefire during which dozens of Israeli hostages and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are to be released. Despite the many setbacks we have seen on this front, Hamas's response to the framework for a hostage deal proposed by the United States, Egypt, and Qatar has broadly been qualified as a relatively positive signal, with suggestions that indirect negotiations between the movement and the Israeli government will build upon it.
The second stage is political, with peace - or some sort of peace that remains highly ambiguous - as its principal objective. Here, the two sides that are supposed to bring the ceasefire about, Netanyahu and Hamas, become the problem that must be dealt with.
The path to arriving at this second stage could perhaps be summed up in two formulas, each of which influences and is influenced by the other.
- The United States, along with Western countries, preventing another massacre in Rafah and then starting a process that precipitates the collapse of Netanyahu and his government. Doing so is a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition for progress on other fronts. When they spoke two days ago, after communication between them had been cut off, Joe Biden warned Netanyahu against launching a military operation in Rafah, pointing to the fact that Israel had agreed to send a delegation to Washington to discuss the matter. With assured confidence, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan added that no operation in Rafah would be carried out before those talks.
- The Arab and Islamic worlds, along with the so-called moderate Palestinian forces, preventing Hamas from appearing to have won this war along the lines of the "Divine Victory" that Hezbollah had declared after the 2006 war. This must be followed by an effort to prevent them from taking the reins of Palestinian decision-making and representing the Palestinian people, or achieving either objective to a significant extent.
Of course, any positive development in either formula would be bound to reflect positively on the other, and vice versa.
However, the divergent conditions of the two stages warrant concern that a ceasefire could be impeded to prevent us from getting to the second stage. Indeed, it is difficult to bet that Netanyahu or Hamas will suddenly become altruistic and prioritize peace over their direct, personal, and partisan interests.
Nonetheless, assuming that the foreign actors applying pressure on the two directly involved parties prevail, we can maintain some cautious optimism. Since politics and its tools would necessarily be part of the trajectory that brings this hypothetical outcome about, we have begun to see an increasing number of signs that Netanyahu is being circumvented in Israel. For example, Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, recently visited Washington in what was described as a challenge to his Prime Minister. In turn, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has taken a number of defiant steps, foremost among them his initiative to integrate the Haredim into the army and his assertion that "taking responsibility {in war} is the source of authority."
On the other side, President Mahmoud Abbas's very late appointment of Mohammad Mustafa as the new prime minister tasked with forming a government falls into the same category. This government is expected to reconfigure the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah but, first and foremost, to take part in a political process and exploit the current gap between Israel and its Western allies, paving the way for a feasible Palestinian state to emerge.
Naturally, paving the way for this eventuality through a six-week ceasefire that is accompanied by the release of hostages and prisoners, would diffuse the situation to a certain extent and create an atmosphere more conducive to political opportunities and critical revisions on both sides. That, in turn, would help the transition from the security stage to the political stage.
As for the vitriol that has come from Hamas and other Axis of Resistance factions following Abbas's move, it overlooks the fact that while Hamas is required in the first, security stage, it will not be tolerated as a negotiating party in the political stage unless it hides behind Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and some Arab countries. For his part, Netanyahu has voiced his opposition differently, going as far as he can in his effort to outbid the rest of the Israeli political body politic, as well as the entire world, by continuing to identify his war with the survival and fate of the Jewish state.
In fact, political acceptability is an issue for both Hamas, which lacks it, and Netanyahu, who is threatened with losing it. Both parties, if they could evade the pressures currently being applied on them, would opt to remain entrenched in their fighting positions and tunnels, regardless of the repercussions for civilians. They would not ascend to a political future in which a Palestinian state, which both oppose (albeit for different reasons and by different means), could emerge. Moreover, they are both stuck in the pre-Oslo Accord’s (1993) era of existential conflict. Regardless of the criticisms directed at it, the Oslo Accord granted Palestinianism its physical embodiment and suggested that the conflict could be resolved through non-violent means. However, it also underlined the limitations of the raw ideological notions regarding the conflict, nationalist in Netanyahu's case and religious in Hamas's.
The coming days could give rise to developments that speak volumes about the paradox surrounding those two stages and many sides' attempts at circumvention and subterfuge.