Editorial: Preparing the Environment for Peace

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jordan on Tuesday, Jan. 3, with the goal of resuming direct peace talks between the parties. The welcome meeting comes more than 15 months since Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after three weeks of negotiations.

Abbas has since refused to meet with Netanyahu. Instead, he has taken steps that have damaged the prospects for peace. Abbas wrote in The New York Times in May that his determination to achieve U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood was in order to “pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.” In September he violated the Oslo Accords, which stipulated that all final-status issues would be resolved through direct negotiations, by submitting a bid for statehood at the United Nations outside negotiations. And Abbas has glorified the convicted terrorists that Israel released in exchange for Gilad Shalit as “freedom fighters and holy warriors.”

Abbas’ actions over the past year have done nothing to improve the environment on the ground or prepare his constituents to make shared sacrifices to reach a lasting deal with the Jewish state. Rather than negotiate with Israel, he has negotiated to welcome Hamas—an Iranian-backed terrorist group—into his government.

Now, as the PA finally agrees to meet with Israel, the Jewish state must be mindful that an enemy sworn to its destruction is set to join the PLO—the official body tasked with negotiating with Israel. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh—the same leader Abbas has met with to discuss a reconciliation agreement—said (video) on Dec. 14, “The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel]... We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.” In the same speech, Haniyeh also promised to “lead Intifada after Intifada” until Palestine was “liberated.”

There are those who claim Hamas is seeking to become a more moderate political presence. However, as Hamas official Osama Hamdan said last week, “Anyone who thinks that Hamas has, or will, change is living under an illusion.”

In 2011 alone, terrorist groups operating out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip fired more than 600 rockets and mortars into Israel, including an anti-tank missile targeting an Israeli school bus. This Islamic fundamentalist terror group is still operating under a charter that calls for the death of Jews, imposes strict restrictions on women in Gaza and is importing scores of advanced weapons to be used against Israel.

As President Obama said last May, the “agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.”

American support for the PLO—including the opening of an official office in Washington, DC—was based on the premise that it would pursue peace with Israel and reject terror. The PLO cannot be a real partner for peace if it admits the terrorist group Hamas into its governing structure or if Abbas continues to circumvent direct talks by seeking recognition of statehood through international bodies. The United States must send a clear signal that it will not tolerate these actions and close the PLO office in Washington if Hamas is admitted or Abbas doesn’t change course.

While we must remain optimistic that peace talks will lead to a two-state agreement—a Jewish state of Israel living in peace and security alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state—it is essential that Abbas denounce Hamas as the terrorist entity that it is, begin preparing his citizens for living in peace with Israel, and return to direct negotiations without preconditions.