Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh.

Has PM Ismail Haniyeh, right, after the announcement of a Palestinian unity agreement in Gaza, April 23, 2014. Photo by AP

“Israel is an existing fact, and the State of Israel will continue to exist. But Hamas will only consider recognizing Israel when an independent Palestinian state is established … As a Palestinian, I want a state within the ‘67 borders,” said Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal in an interview with Reuters in January 2007. It was six months before Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, which created the deepest, most violent rupture ever of Palestinian leadership.

Nobody in Israel took Meshal’s statement seriously, as nobody took seriously a document released by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s adviser a month earlier. The document proposed a five-year “hudna,” or “ceasefire,” to “… enable Israel and the Palestinians to advance toward setting up two states for two peoples.”

In May 2013, Meshal told Foreign Policy, “Hamas would be open in principle to negotiations with Israel, though the reality on the ground today made such talks pointless. The [military] resistance … is a means to an end, not a goal by itself.”

The goal is a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967.

Is Hamas riper now than in the past to conduct negotiations with Israel? The panic that gripped Israel’s government in view of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation signed this week indicates that the question should be directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before it is directed at Meshal. Israel after all signed the Oslo agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization, not with the Palestinian state. The PLO was defined as a terror organization and the talks with it took place before it recognized Israel and announced the renunciation of the armed resistance.

Hamas is not part of the PLO, but other Palestinian groups, known as the “rejectionist organizations,” are an inseparable part of it. Yet Israel never demanded that these groups recognize it before it signed the Oslo agreements.

The reconciliation will lead Hamas and Islamic Jihad into coalition with the PLO, making them an inseparable part of the formal framework that signed the Oslo agreements. It is possible of course that the new PLO will move to revoke these agreements unilaterally. But so far no inclination has been reported on Hamas’ part to condition its joining the PLO on revoking the agreements.

On the contrary, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has stated that there is no contradiction between the peace talks and the reconciliation agreement. This could indicate an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to maintain the peace talks, as Meshal made clear already in 2012, when the basic reconciliation agreement between the two movements was ratified.

The reasons for Hamas’ signing the reconciliation agreement on are no secret. Since Hamas severed its ties with the Syrian regime due to the civilian massacre, it was immediately cut off from the Iranian feeding tube. Hamas cannot take advantage of Qatar’s contributions, intended mainly for development, due to the double closure of Gaza by Egypt and Israel.

Turkey is still transferring money to Hamas, but not enough to maintain and pay the wages of tens of thousands of Gazan policemen and administrative officials. Hamas must also iron out its differences with Egypt. Hamas is seen in Egypt as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian regime defines as a terror organization.

In the absence of an Arab patron, Hamas is forced to examine the possibility of adopting Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas, for his part, has good reasons of his own to reconcile with Hamas. The first is ideological. Abbas, not his predecessor Yasser Arafat, lost Gaza to Hamas. Abbas must also maintain the PLO’s title as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in the Arab League conference of 1974. At the time, Hamas wasn’t even part of the game. But now, Abbas must represent the entire Palestinian people if he wants to achieve international recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Here too lies the dilemma that Abbas is placing on Israel and the United States’ doorstep. If they want to advance a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, they cannot demand to neutralize Hamas and at the same time claim that Abbas does not represent all of the Palestinians.

Israel’s automatic reaction is not surprising. It prefers to negotiate ad hoc with organizations, even terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, on specific issues, like releasing prisoners or a cease fire. It does not conduct diplomatic talks with groups that don’t recognize it. But the Palestinian Authority also doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, yet Israel conducts peace talks with it all the same.

Another contradiction in Israel’s position pertains to Hamas. Israel objected to talks with Hamas because it was a terror group and served as an Iranian agent in the region. But when Hamas cut itself off from Iran and moved to join the PLO, Israel used it as an excuse to stop the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and blame Abbas for the talks’ collapse.

Israel is expected to cut all ties with the Palestinian unity government that is due to be formed in five weeks and even impose sanctions on it. Washington is also expected to turn a cold shoulder to the new government. At this stage, the European Union and Arab states, most of which support the reconciliation, will have to make a decision. Will they allow some 5 million Palestinians to be left with no services, no funds and no hope of a political horizon, or will they take this opportunity to shape reality in the Middle East, rather than merely observe from the side?