Is Hamas-Fatah unity good for Israel, too?

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Lisa Mullins: Today's Palestinian unity deal did not get a positive response from Israel.

Binyamin Netanyahu: This is a tremendous setback for peace and a great, a great advance for terrorists.

Mullins: That is Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu's reaction to the pact. Israeli historian and journalist, Gershom Gorenberg has a different take on the Palestinian reconciliation deal signed today. He says unifying Fatah and Hamas might actually eliminate an obstacle to Mideast peace.

Gershom Gorenberg: Because the argument, including from the Israeli government was always that Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad's government in the West Bank didn't represent all the Palestinians. So, who is Israel negotiating with? On that level there's an obvious advantage for Israel in reunification. The big question is who's coming into whose tent? If this agreement means that Hamas is de facto accepting negotiating efforts by the PLO, lead by Abbas, based on a two-state solution, then that's a major step forward. If on the other hand it means that Hamas is gaining control of the Palestinian institutions without making any concessions on its relationship with Israel, that's going to pose some dangers for Israel. But which of these things is happening is entirely unclear yet, and in fact may well be influenced by the stance that Israel takes toward the entire process.

Mullins: It sounds as if Netanyahu himself, the Prime Minister, has made up his mind that right now if it's bad for Israel it must mean that Hamas will hold sway and the Fatah is coming under Hamas' umbrella. You're saying that the very reaction that Israel has may influence who holds sway, Hamas or Fatah.

Gorenberg: Well, it could be one factor, but there's a lot of things that have yet to be worked out. And we don't know whether the agreement is going to hold up because there are so many things left to be worked out. However, if the result of this is that Hamas comes in under the PLO roof and the PLO policy of dealing with Israel then one could cautiously see that as a step forward for negotiations, for a two-state solution. I think that part of the reaction and part of the agreement itself has to be understood in the context that at the moment both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side are playing more for international recognition and pressure on the other side, than for direct cooperation with the other.

Mullins: I want to bring in here the death of Osama Bin Laden and what the end of Bin Laden means for Israel. We know that a senior Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in Gaza, 'We condemn the assassination of Bin Laden and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.' So, if that might be part of the new unified Palestinian government, that doesn't seem to auger too well for Netanyahu. But what is the upshot?

Gorenberg: Well, al Qaeda in that form of global Jihadism has not been a major player in the conflict here, although Hamas itself has faced opposition, occasionally violence, from pro al Qaeda groups within Gaza. It's possible that Haniyeh's statement was aimed at his domestic audience in Gaza, trying to show he's not too moderate, that he's not a tool of the West.

Mullins: One final question for you, there are commentators who are calling the Arab Spring a nuclear winter for Israel. Would these tectonic shifts all over the Middle East right now, we know that Israel has lost some leaders that it has been able to count on for stability at least, but does the Arab Spring necessarily destabilize or threaten Israel?

Gorenberg: I think that in principle Israel should welcome democratic developments in the Middle East. It should have an easier time reaching agreements and maintaining agreements with democratic governments. At the same time, it means that public opinion in the neighboring Arab countries becomes particularly important, and therefore, it becomes particularly important to look for progress in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The Palestinian issue isn't going to vanish from the Arab world, and the changes that are going on now make it all the more important for Israel to address that issue.

Mullins: Thank you. Israeli historian, journalist, and blogger is a correspondent for the American Prospect. His latest book is The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements. Thanks very much.

Gorenberg: Thank you.