As Israel makes up its mind it will continue pounding Gaza [AFP]

Israel's military assault on Gaza appears to ignore the desire of most of the Israeli people to see talks opened with the territory's Hamas leadership.

But rather than exposing a conflict in Israeli attitudes, it actually reveals two sides of a calculated perennial method of manipulating the leaders of the Palestinian people.

The Israeli establishment's purpose is to ensure that whichever group leads the Palestinians – Hamas, Fatah or any other group or coalition – it will protect Israel by containing Palestinian resistance, while Israel is free to continue its systematic violence aimed at crushing opposition to its power over the territory.

The support of the Israeli public for talks with Hamas follows the same logic, that Israel should talk to the party that can control the Palestinian population and the Palestinian resistance.

As the Palestinian Authority has lost control over the Gaza Strip, Israelis only support negotiations with Hamas if they will lead to armed groups being controlled and rocket attacks stopped.

Thus both the threats against Hamas and the calls for talks with Hamas are not aimed at opening negotiations with the movement, but are two ways of subduing Palestinian resistance.

As Israel decides, it will continue pounding Gaza to force its people to either bring down Hamas or surrender.

Punishment and assassinations

The two options do not preclude assassinations: Israel's constant message to the Palestinians' leaders is that, if they fail to carry out what Israel wants, they will be punished - with imprisonment or by assassination - regardless of their political positions.

For Israel, Abbas is a "failed partner", unable
to control the Palestinian people [AFP]

The notion that Palestinian leaders are only tolerated if they police their own people without defending them from Israeli aggression is not new.

It preceded Hamas's ascension to power, the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and suicide bombings there.

Israel applies the concept to leaders who "recognise Israel" such as Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, and those who do not, like Hamas.

Israel never forgave Arafat as he refused to give up national Palestinian rights in return for a fragmented and powerless entity and supported the second Palestinian Intifada that followed.

Today, Israel assassinates Hamas leaders in Gaza while imprisoning hundreds of Hamas and Fatah activists for resisting its diktats.

It recently assassinated three members of Al Aqsa brigades in the Balata refugee camp and continues to kill Hamas fighters on a daily basis.

And while Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is received with a smile by Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, he is treated as "a failed partner" who did not stand the test of controlling the Palestinian people.

Neither Abbas's condemnations of Hamas nor his refusal to stop unpopular negotiations with Israel – seen by Palestinians as being futile and a cover for Israel's ongoing military operations - have led to him being anointed "a trusted partner".

US support

Right from the onset of the Madrid Peace Conference, in 1991, Israel, with full US backing, refused to abide by the Fourth Geneva Conventions that ban an occupying power from confiscating lands, dispossessing populations, imposing closures, and bombing a population under its occupation.

This continued throughout the Oslo process as Israel stipulated in consecutive agreements that the Palestinian leadership should assume key security task containing the Palestinian population as a prerequisite to  Israeli troop redeployments from Palestinian areas. 

The noose was further tightened on the Palestinian leadership's neck when, in 1998, George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, offered guarantees that Israel was the only party to an American "letter of guarantees" which authorised Israel to define its security requirement as it saw fit.

The letter, believed to have been drafted by the then openly pro-Israeli Dennis Ross, then assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, provided Israel with a pretext for delaying its troop withdrawals.

More significantly it gave a green light for Israeli military actions against the Palestinians under the pretext that the latter did not fulfill "the security requirements".

It was the formalisation of an existing Israeli policy that aimed to restrict the Palestinian leadership's room to manoeuvre as Israel continued to expand Jewish settlement construction, refuse to release Palestinian prisoners and delay any moves towards an end of the occupation.

Yet, without exonerating the American government, Israel and complicit Arab governments from their own responsibility, it was also the self delusion of the Palestinian leadership that reduced its role to trying to prove to the world its "credentials" in controlling the Palestinian people.

Leadership failure

The failure of a conciliatory leadership to deliver hope for independence was, to a large part, the reason why Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006.

But again it was the mentality of the Palestinian leadership which, tragically, wanted to prove that it alone could deliver Israeli security that played a big role in the ensuring internal conflict that culminated in the Hamas military over the Gaza Strip last June.

But the most tragic and ironic turn of events is that the Hamas leadership in Gaza has entangled itself in the same game.

It has used its new-found authority in the Gaza Strip to send messages to Israel that it alone can deliver a truce - thus joining in the very game that it opposes.

It is an open secret that both leaderships in Ramallah and Gaza are vying to prove to the world that Israeli security is in their hands.

It is an understandable tactic as part of a strategy to force Israel to enter serious negotiations to end the occupation.

However, the power struggle between the two Palestinian leaderships is eclipsing the scenes of death and devastation.

Ramallah and Gaza are competing for Arab and international recognition - but to their detriment, as the Palestinian territories risk being turned into two fragmented and powerless entities.

Supporters of Hamas, who are buoyed by the Israeli calls for talks to end the rocket fire, should learn from Fatah's painful experience - that the "security arrangements" do not amount to a meaningful political agreement to end the Israeli occupation.

And supporters of the Palestinian Authority have to remember that security co-ordination does not exonerate any Palestinian leadership from Israeli wrath in the event it outlives its usefulness.

Both leaderships are in the same boat: Abbas's niceties no longer please the Israelis, while Hamas's obdurate position of proving to the world that they are the alternative partner comes with a high price tag that threatens its legitimacy.

As the situation stands, and unless the two leaderships get serious about a national reconciliation, a frustrated and angry Palestinian population will take the initiative and erupt in a third intifada.

Both Ramallah and Gaza will then have to follow or witness their own demise.

The writer is an Al Jazeera Middle East analyst.

Source: Al Jazeera