Skip to main content

Israel, engage Abbas now

By Natan B. Sachs, Special to CNN
updated 9:51 AM EST, Thu November 22, 2012
A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26. A boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed shop in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, on Monday, November 26.
HIDE CAPTION
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Warning: Graphic image (single)
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Natan Sachs: Long-term cease-fire dubious; Israel's goal had been deterrence
  • He says some hope for Hamas-Israel resolution; but recall: Hamas denies Israel right to exist
  • He says Hamas won't renounce violence; Abbas, on other hand, has; wants 2-state solution
  • Sachs: Israel should be clear-eyed on Hamas, but seek far-sighted engagement with Abbas

Editor's note: Natan B. Sachs is a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, where he focuses on Israeli politics and foreign policy and on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is writing a book on the domestic political underpinnings of Israel's foreign policy. Follow him on twitter: @natansachs

(CNN) -- The long-term prospects for the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas are, unfortunately, grim. But Israel may still have recourse with a Palestinian partner who is thoroughly different from Hamas.

From the start of the operation in Gaza that ended Wednesday, the Israeli goal was limited: to restore deterrence with Hamas and dissuade the organization from firing rockets at Israel. Speculation (and accusations) have swirled that Israel's upcoming elections drove the Israeli leadership's calculus when ordering operation "Pillar of Defense" (Israel heads to the polls in January 2013.)

But in truth, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a significant and secure lead in the polls even before the operation, meaning that going to war, with its inherent unpredictability, would only place his own victory in jeopardy. A shrewd and experienced politician like Netanyahu does not create his own October surprise when already ahead.

Opinion: In Israel-Hamas clash, Iran casts a shadow

Instead, Israel's aim was to recreate the limited deterrence that existed after the last large-scale conflict in 2008-2009 (Operation "Cast Lead.") After that operation, for a while, Hamas mostly refrained from firing at Israel, at times stepping aside while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other smaller Gaza-based organizations engaged in rocket fire, and at times stopping such activity and policing the cease-fire with Israel.

Yet increasingly in recent months, and with Hamas' advances in weapons acquisition and in the diplomatic sphere, Hamas itself has fired large numbers of rockets toward Israeli population centers. The Israeli intent, in other words, was forceful but contained: deterrence but little more.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Even if the new cease-fire comes with effective deterrence between the sides, the question remains how to avoid the next large-scale conflict in Gaza if deterrence erodes yet again. It is, of course, tempting to hope for movement toward a long-term resolution between Israel and Hamas, to a diplomatic solution that goes beyond conflict management. But sobering though it may be, it is worth remembering the goals and nature of Hamas as a political and military organization.

Hamas' much-touted flirtation with pragmatism in recent months—cut short by recent leadership changes in Hamas—never went beyond agreeing to discuss a long-term but temporary cease-fire with Israel. At best, Hamas was willing to consider not fighting in exchange for concessions; it never even suggested it would commit to comprehensive peace or reconciliation. In fact, Hamas' rejection of the basic conditions set before it by the international community—acceptance of Israel's right to exist and a renunciation of violence as a political tool—speaks volumes about its goals, goals it never hid.

Opinion: How this could be the last Gaza war

For Hamas to accept Israel's right to exist would represent a fundamental break with its ideology. Moreover, unlike its parent organization, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas never renounced violence as a political tool, and, as if resolved to prove Israeli hawks correct, it used Gaza—from which Israel withdrew in 2005—as a launching pad for strikes against Israel proper. In its announcements boasting of these strikes it insists on referring to Israeli cities as "settlements," lest anyone differentiate between occupation of the West Bank or Gaza and Israel itself.

Hamas, in other words, may have incentive to act pragmatically, but it has done a remarkable job demonstrating it does not intend to do so.

And yet, whether Israel likes it or not, Hamas is here to stay. If there is a way forward it is not by wishing away Hamas' goals, nor is it by ignoring Hamas's central role in Palestinian politics. The key must be to widen the circle to include the majority of Palestinian society, still represented by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and by the PLO headed by Mahmoud Abbas. While Hamas will not renounce violence, Abbas, addressing the Israeli public directly, has unequivocally rejected a return to violent conflict with Israel.

Mideast cease-fire begins
Peres: Iran is competing with Egypt
Truce holds between Israel, Hamas

He and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have proven their commitment to combating terrorism in practice in the West Bank. While Hamas will not even discuss recognition of Israel's right to exist, Abbas has repeatedly stated his commitment to a two-state solution and to a secure Israel alongside an independent Palestine.

Moreover, if there is one encouraging element to Hamas' overtures toward diplomacy, it is in the organization's signaling that it might accept the popular will of Palestinians should they opt for peace. If the Palestinians ratified a peace deal with Israel by referendum or vote, Hamas may yet accept its popular defeat on that issue while still hoping to shape the future of Palestinian politics. One should have no illusions about Hamas' intents, but neither should one underestimate the power of the political considerations that constrain it.

It is therefore all the more lamentable that the Netanyahu government has so far failed to engage actively with Abbas and the PLO. At the end of this month, Abbas intends to pursue nonmember observer status for Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly.

Opinion: Israel, face new reality

Rather than engage Abbas fruitfully—disagreeing perhaps, but with a clear, energetic drive toward resolution of the conflict—the current Israeli leadership has signaled that it will respond harshly to the Palestinian U.N. bid, perhaps threatening the very existence of the Palestinian Authority. Instead of differentiating between Abbas and Hamas, strengthening the former while weakening the latter, current policy could soon shut the door on meaningful diplomacy altogether.

Sound strategy would suggest a sober view of Hamas and its goals. It would also suggest proactive, farsighted engagement with Hamas' biggest rival, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Natan Sachs.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT