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Netanyahu is talking to Hamas. It's about time

Without Hamas, there will be no interim agreement and no long-term solution. The notion of the ‘moderates’ reaching an agreement between themselves while the ‘fundamentalists’ are ignored or even dealt with forcefully is a dangerous illusion.

For the past week Israel has been negotiating with Hamas in Cairo. While the Palestinian delegation to the talks includes a representative of Mahmoud Abbas, and while the Egyptians are the ones carrying the messages back and forth between the two parties, everyone knows exactly what this is all about. These are no longer talks about prisoner exchanges, but rather a first attempt to touch upon the core issues relating to the siege on Gaza and the status of Hamas as ruler of the Strip. Israel is talking to Hamas (and to Islamic Jihad, which is closer to Iran). Better get used to it.

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. Hamas is not a post-modern organization like ISIS, but a national movement with vast support within the Palestinian population (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Netanyahu is drawing fire from the Right – that’s to be expected – but a lot of it is coming from the Left too. Bibi’s critics on the Left claim that ever since the kidnappings all he has done is strengthen Hamas (that’s true), help Hamas regroup during its time of crisis (that’s also true), and that instead he should be talking only to Abbas and other “moderates.” And that’s dead wrong.

Hamas, as any serious observer knows, is a political movement with an armed wing (so is Fatah, by the way). These kinds of organizations are common with national liberation movements – just like Sinn Fein was or the Jewish militia in Mandatory Palestine. More importantly, Hamas represents a vast portion of the Palestinian public in Gaza and the West Bank. It’s a grassroots movement, closely tied to the population, not some postmodern, transnational volunteer organization like ISIS or al-Qaeda.

Even if the actual support rate for Hamas within the Palestinian population doesn’t reach 50%, but only 40% or even 35%, that’s high enough to turn it into an essential part of any binding political solution, because with such strong support it has the ability to sabotage any agreement if left out. Just as any agreement that would only represent half of the Jewish population would have very low chances of succeeding (see Oslo Accord).

The notion of the “moderates” reaching an agreement between themselves while the “fundamentalists” are ignored or even dealt with forcefully is just the type of illusion the Israeli Left likes to come up with (see this campaign for example). It’s also the kind of thinking that led to some of American’s worst foreign policy disasters. If the Israeli peace camp was serious about peace, it would go out and demand that the Cairo talks be turned into preparation for further negotiations on a permanent solution, instead of daydreaming about striking a separate deal with Abbas.

Netanyahu (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Binyamin Netanyahu. Doing the right thing a month too late and thousands of lives too short (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

This is where people usually jump up and remind us that Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction or the dismantling of the State of Israel. So what. There’s a big difference between talk and political action. The platform of Likud – Israel’s ruling party for most of the period since 1977 – doesn’t recognize the Palestinian people as the native people of this land, not their civil rights nor their right to a state of their own. And still, Palestinians have been negotiating with Likud members for 20 years now, without ever making it their condition that Likud changes its platform and rewrites its history prior to any talks. The wording of Hamas’ charter, just like that of the PLO’s charter before it, are only an excuse to avoid negotiations.

If the current talks would have been about “the destruction of Israel,” avoiding them would have been the right step. But the talks are about a long-term ceasefire, the lifting of the siege, about the safety of the citizens of Israel and the wellbeing of the residents of Gaza. How can anyone oppose that? I simply don’t get the Israeli peace camp anymore, that roots for the government during wartime and attacks it from the right during talks.

Hamas is a central part of “the Palestinian Problem,” which is why Hamas must be part of any solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu should be congratulated for finally understanding that the conflict has no military solution. Instead of restoring the taboo on talking to Hamas, we should be glad that it is Netanyahu, of all people, who is breaking it.

Any criticism towards Netanyahu should be about him still needing the Egyptians in the room, along with their own problematic agenda and interests. It should be for sticking to the divide and rule approach towards the Palestinians, instead of treating their entire leadership with respect. It should be for always refusing to deal with the core issues and only agreeing to the minimum of steps required for maintaining the status quo. And most of all, it should be for being dragged into doing the right thing, a month too late and thousands of lives too short, and only after first exhausting every single worst option.

Related:
In ceasefire talks, Netanyahu is letting Hamas win Gaza war
Gaza war: It’s about keeping the Palestinians under control
Israel has alternatives to this war

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Pedro X

      Here is Hamas’ answer in rejecting the Egyptian peace proposals:

      “ALLAH IS OUR GOAL, THE PROPHET IS OUR LEADER, JIHAD IS OUR WAY, AND DEATH FOR ALLAH IS OUR MOST EXALTED WISH”

      Hamas is no different from ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

      Reply to Comment
      • Really. When and where did Hamas (by which I guess you mean the organization’s political bureau) say that?

        Reply to Comment
        • On the Al-Qassam Brigades English twitter feed, earlier today. But that has nothing to do with the fact that Netanyahu needs to engage with them diplomatically, as per the subject of this article.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            The fact that it is an explicitly Jihadist movement with a genocidal goal when it comes to Jews has nothing to do with the delusional content of this article?

            Reply to Comment
        • (Although it’s not an official twitter account, so it’s hard to be certain of the actual source of the statement.)

          Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        There sure isn’t much difference from the Haganah of 1948 and ISIS other than Israel has successfully fortified itself and recruited a legion of PR hacks that swept the former’s use of children under the rug. (Put it in google)

        http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%92%D7%93%D7%A0%22%D7%A2

        “They dug anti-tank in Beit Vegan, Talpiot and Qatamon, established checkpoints all over the area and prepared the airport and the new road between Jerusalem and Bab el Wad (Shaar Hagai). These works were made after May 15, under constant bombardment, which killed about a dozen Gadna youngsters in the first month of the Arab invasion. Approximately sixty percent of all jobs in the city fortifications were made by them. Nearly 600 Gadna youngsters were recruited for these jobs every day.”

        Reply to Comment
        • bar

          “There sure isn’t much difference from the Haganah of 1948 and ISIS”

          I’ve probably never read a more ignorant, foolish comment after all of these years on the Internet. Never. Congratulations. It was hilarious.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Well, I’m not kidding. The Jihaganah attacked, occupied and demolished civilian towns in order to convert Palestine into a demographic colonial-settler state and massacred civilians along the way. Plus they enlisted minors around 15-17 in support roles.

            Reply to Comment
          • Will

            You can’t be that stupid. Surely you are trying to provoke.

            Reply to Comment
          • bar

            He’s not trying, he is provoking. Laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

            Hey Andrew, I have a question for you. Since your judgment on this subject has now been clearly exposed as embarrassingly poor, your knowledge of history hilariously shoddy and your remarks perceived as silly and ignorant, would you mind taking on a new username? This one is tarnished permanently.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Poor old Andrew.

            His posts have never been too clever but as times goes on he out does even himself.

            It is obvious that his rage against Jews is growing as time goes on. I guess it is a kind of rage which is generated by impotence.

            Poor old fellow. He will die a very disappointed old man in his bed, muttering: “Lord, all I asked for is harm to the Jewish people, why couldn’t you give me what I wanted in my life time? Was that too much to ask?” Yes, Andrew, it was.

            Reply to Comment
      • mohamad

        Your wrong. Hamas is different than Isis.
        Get educated!

        Reply to Comment
    2. bar

      Noam Sheizaf makes it seem as if there is a pragmatic, normal, Western-thinking opposite side to Israel in Gaza. Wishful thinking.

      As for talking before fighting, let’s imagine for a moment that they did talk and somehow Israel had lifted more restrictions on Gaza a while back. Is there anyone who believes there would be fewer tunnels and rockets?

      Anyone?

      Reply to Comment
      • Sadie

        I am not sure what “normal” is but can you call does anyone believe that Israeli thinking is “Western-thinking”?
        (Which kind of Western-thinking?
        Pragmatic it certainly is if the aim of this government is to claim more land for the settlements.
        The only “pragmatic” thing for Israel to do is to talk to the Palestinians and all their representatives. Yes the Hamas too. Trying to control and teach/educate the Palestinians won’t work. Wishful thinking.

        Reply to Comment
        • bar

          Israel has been speaking to the Palestinians for 20 years. Lots and lots of talking. They should keep talking.

          Talking to Hamas? I think it’s foolish, but by all means, go ahead and talk. As long as they don’t continue receiving concrete and as long as their borders remain under careful watch.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Linda Carraway

      The political leader of Hamas, on the left in the picture, has a name: Khalid Meshal. Born in Silwad in the West Bank,his family fled to Jordan; he later went to complete his studies in Kuwait (physics, I believe) and taught the subject before turning to the Muslim Brotherhood. He is a very bright and capable man. Check out “Kill Khalid” by Paul Mcgeough.

      Reply to Comment
      • Martin

        What you say does not make him less of an odious fellow. He has the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Eliza

      Yep. If the siege was lifted there would less tunnels. The number of rockets and their sophistication is not as important as the motivation to fire them. If I had the misfortune to reside in any State nearby Israel, I would want some military capability. We see what Israel does to the defenceless.

      It maybe difficult for you to accept, but the Palestinians have the right to their security and self-defence.

      Noam Sheizaf article makes sense. If the Israeli Peace Camp is unable to bring itself to recognise Hamas as a legitimate player, then the only explanation that holds up is that the Israeli Peace Camp is more interested in making motherhood statements re peace rather than working towards justice for the Palestinians – without which, there will be no peace.

      But think that Netanyahu is just stalling again – Israel not yet ready to come to the table. So far there is precious little evidence that Netanyahu is ‘doing the right thing’.

      Reply to Comment
      • bar

        Please don’t speak to me in propaganda-speak. “Justice for the Palestinians.” The Palestinians have precisely the situation they deserve.

        Let me provide you with a couple of examples to demonstrate my point.

        1937 Peel Commission suggests dividing the 22% of Mandatory Palestine they didn’t give to the Arabs already (TransJordan) between Jews and Arabs. Jews accept. Arabs refuse. Therefore, the Arabs don’t get a state.

        1947 UN General Assembly proposes dividing the 22% of Mandatory Palestine they didn’t give to the Arabs already (TransJordan) between Jews and Arabs. Jews accept. Arabs refuse. Therefore, the Arabs don’t get a state.

        The next day the Arabs launch a war against the Jewish Yishuv which would cost 1000 Jewish lives over the next few months. Some months later, the Arab states attack Israel. As a result, the Arabs don’t get a state and many end up as refugees.

        In 2000 and early 2001 Israel offers the Palestinians a state that would contain about 7% of Mandatory Palestine not yet given to the Arabs (Jordan). This would leave Jews a country with 1.5 million Arabs in about 15% of Mandatory Palestine. Arabs refuse. Therefore, the Arabs don’t get a state. Also, Arabs launch a vicious war against Israeli civilians. They end up with thousands dead and the IDF back in areas which had been given to their Palestinian government to control.

        2005-6 in Gaza, Israel evacuates every last Jew, soldier and civilian. Does it get peace? Nope. Expansion of rocket attacks on Israel.

        All of this teaches us something simple, Eliza. It teaches us that people who believe there would be less tunneling or rockets if borders were open either don’t know their history or choose to view history with rose-colored glasses.

        Reply to Comment
        • berl

          Do you know how many Arab-Palestinians and how many Jews were supposed to move away according to the Peel plan? Check it.

          Reply to Comment
        • The Arabs did what ANYONE else would have done: they rejected the squandering away of their land, by foreign powers to another foreign power (European Zionists)

          Had Ben Gurion and his clique of gangster colonialists tried to get a foothold on say, Massachusetts, they would have unceremoniously been kicked out of that territory. But the Arabs were no match for pre-Israel’s military might. And so the Arab’s misery began, reinforced another time in 1967 and to this day.

          Reply to Comment
          • William

            Gert, the Zionists were there. Your analogy is simple-minded. By the
            late ’30s, the choice to live in one state had passed by. The next best option was the partition or two state plan. We are waiting

            Reply to Comment
          • Read ANY early Zionist: w/o exception they wanted to maximise territory and minimise demography (Arabs) in that territory.

            The Zionist acceptance of the partition plan was nothing more than accepting a springboard from which to achieve further full dominance over Palestine (and beyond, BTW). They said this openly. Plans for S. Lebanon and the Sinai existed too.

            Zionist history is a continuous arc from Jabotinsky to Netanyahu. Only the language changes mildly and Bibi is decidedly less candid than Jabbo.

            Reply to Comment
          • bar

            You have lots of excuses but my facts remain unchallenged. The consequences which the Arabs brought upon themselves remain their own fault.

            Here, consider this example: the Partition Plan (181) gave the Jews 56% of the 22% of Mandatory Palestine which the British had not given to the Arabs already. Of this 56%, over 60% was arid Negev desert. On the other hand, the Arabs, who were to receive 44%, received much of the most fertile land available.

            They didn’t only refuse, the very day after the UN vote recommending 181 Arabs began to attack and kill Jews. Within the next year the outcome of the war, with Israel coming into being and a population exchange with the Arab world beginning its nasty trajectory.

            Had the Arabs accepted, Israel would be half its present size. Had the Arabs accepted, they would have had another state (besides Jordan) for the past 66 years. Had the Arabs accepted, there would be no Arab refugees and no Jewish refugees from Arab lands. In short, everything would be different.

            But the Arabs said no and launched a war. And now, instead of compromising, they continue to demand all of the 22% the Jews received. And then their defenders claim that somehow this is all Israel’s fault.

            Reply to Comment
          • William

            I disagree with you. There certainly was a range,of territorial scenarios. You are,choosing the maximalist Zionist aspirations and painting them on the whole,community. You also fail to mention that the Arabs wanted to do the same things you claim the Zionists wanted. Very poor form on your part.

            But the above does not matter. At all. It is not 1949. We have two peoples. We need to create two states to accommodate them.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Richard Witty

      No-one is really talking to anyone.

      Not short-term, not long-term.

      I personally don’t think its a good thing that Israel talk to Hamas, because I support the unity government, that requires a monopoly of force under a single civilian power, and that requires a single negotiating authority.

      This is NOT progress for anyone. If Israel is talking to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, this disses the PA (perhaps that is Netanyahu’s intent, likely).

      My sense is that two things are ALWAYS happening here.

      1. Israel is attempting to divide and conquer. Now that Hamas is weak, do nothing to empower Fatah. They are trying to weaken everything Palestinian that is political.

      That leaves economic, culture, and social development, which should NOT CEASE. Full speed ahead, including in the development of new institutional structures (integrated worker ownership participation).

      2. Hamas is attempting to dominate the PA.

      The Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah models of power gathering (not unique to Arab models by any stretch), is to have an electoral effort parallel to a military. (Al Qassam Brigades parallel to Hamas political – more than one; Shin Fein parallel to the IRA).

      In Hamas’ case, their portfolio of assets includes(d): money (not so much now), international patronage (not so much now), military capacity (strong prior, moderate to low now), street cred (weak prior, moderate now, likely weak in future if viable alternative).

      Their goals are dual, I don’t know the weight. To resist and ultimately eliminate Zionism, and to dominate the PA, via elections, or elections with militia pride, or elections with militia background coercive presence, or civil war.

      They don’t have that leverage now.

      But, Israel is NOT supportive of the PA. Israel’s goal is the status quo, on and on and on and on.

      Hamas’ goal is to take over the PA.

      I think that Fatah is the only entity with the goal of peace. And, that is a horrid tragedy.

      The left attacks them. Israel attacks them. Hamas and Palestinian militant solidarity attacks them.

      When Fayyad was prime minister, he was the only one successful at truly breaking the Israeli argument. The arguments against peace were breaking one by one.

      And, then the militant left dissed him. The Palestinian solidarity, formerly opposed to PA “corruption” opposed him. Israel reluctantly acknowledged that he was moving Palestine forward, undeniably.

      Not enough adrenaline. Too much thought on his part.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Martin

      Thanks for the update. In other news, an Arab graduate of the Trchnion is now one of the top 15 leaders of Apple and proudly, the highest ranking Israeli in Silicon Valley. So much for the Aparteid smear. And hordes of IS are a threat to the Arab peoples in the Middle East.

      Reply to Comment
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