Can the Unity Government Deliver the Goods?

Even if the Palestinian Unity Government does not accept the Quartet's three demands, its establishment requires Israel to update its policies towards the PA in order to maintain its goals in the Palestinian arena.

In the recent Olmert-Abu Mazen meeting, Israel stated that it will not recognize the expected Palestinian National Unity Government nor meet with Fatah ministers within it if the Quartet's demands are not accepted. However, Israel will continue to maintain contact with Abu Mazen in order to "keep alive a flicker of hope in the political process…" (Ha'aretz, 3/11/07).

The Reut Institute contends that the establishment of a Unity Government requires Israel to update its policies towards the PA in order to maintain its goals in the Palestinian arena.

What is the Issue?

In the short term, Israel's goals vis-à-vis the Palestinians include:

  • Maintaining a dialogue with Abu-Mazen – Even if expectations from political contacts with the Palestinians are currently limited, maintaining a channel with Abu Mazen continues to hold value for Israel. This is due to American pressure on the matter, in order to strengthen Abu Mazen's position over Hamas, and in order not to undermine the chances of creating an international front together with the moderate Arab states against Iran.
  • Creating a Palestinian Address that will be able to care for the needs of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank, fight terror, and promote the separation between Israel and the Palestinians. In light of the Palestinian political crisis (See: Crisis of Palestinian Representation) it seems that only a Palestinian Unity Government will be able to bring about the creation of a political address in the West Bank and Gaza.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

The decision to boycott the Palestinian Unity Government is liable to undermine these goals due to the following reasons:

  • This is not the way to maintain a dialogue with Abu Mazen – In light of internal political battles in Israel and the PA, it seems that at best, the two sides will be able to agree on matters concerning daily relations between themselves. These matters are generally under the jurisdiction of government offices in the PA.Therefore, contact 'solely' with Abu Mazen will likely lead to deadlock.
  • This will prevent the establishment of an address - In addition to internal Palestinian struggles, Israel's policy will add yet another difficulty to the establishment of a Unity Government.

Moreover, in light of the crisis of Palestinian representation there is still uncertainty over whether a unity government will ultimately be established. Israel should not act in a way that could lead it to be blamed for the Palestinian failure to establish the government.

Policy Options

Even if Israel decides to boycott the unity government, it can still 'expose' Hamas by leading it through a 'corridor of difficult decisions' and possibly even bring about its de-facto recognition of Israel through:

  • Demanding that the Government ratify the services that Israel provides the PA such as the mechanism for transferring customs and taxes, postal services, electricity supply, etc.
  • Tying Hamas to the 'failure' of the political process by demanding that every political agreement with Abu Mazen be ratified by the PA's Legislative Council (See: Who is the Interlocutor – the PLO or the PA?).

Such policies will sharpen the tension between Hamas' ideology and its responsibility to care for the needs of the Palestinian population.