The positive reports coming out of the Israeli-American-Palestinian summit in Sharm el Sheikh– like those which came from Washington a week earlier – shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is a strange dynamic to these talks: both sides present an optimistic smile to the world and a hawkish, pessimistic face at home.
As both recent polls and the relative indifference of the Hebrew media reveal, the Israeli public finds it hard to believe that these talks would actually lead to the establishing of a Palestinian state. Even more telling is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister hasn’t engaged yet in a real effort to prepare the Israeli public to what could be the nation’s most difficult moment in 62 years of independence.
But all this can change, and I guess that’s what keeps the US officials going. The process, they must believe, could influence public opinion and change the political trends. Maybe. The problem is that the US is only trying this approach with the Israelis who refuse compromise. Somehow, the same logic is never applied when the Palestinians are concerned.
While we are being told that a rightwing leader like Netanyahu, with an extreme government like the current one, actually stands a better chance to reach peace because he won’t have to deal with a meaningful opposition from his right flank, when it comes to the Palestinian society, the US will only deal with the equivalence of Meretz, if such an analogy could be made.
When the Israeli public elected again and again a rightwing leaders who never recognized the Palestinians’ right for independence (or for full civil rights within the state of Israel), the world was asked to respect the Israeli democracy and hope that with time, the political process and basic realities of the conflict would change these leaders’ views. To some degree, it’s actually happened. But when the Palestinians elected a political party which wouldn’t recognize Israel, the result of the elections was suspended – though their integrity was never questioned – and new ones weren’t held. No wonder that Hamas took power by force where it could, and than violently made both Jerusalem and Ramallah remember that they can’t ignore it.
Would the Likud have acted differently if it won the elections and was kept out of power through the intervention of foreign powers? The scenario is so hypothetical that it’s not even possible to answer such question. But let’s take it even further: what happens if under these conditions, the losing party – let’s say Labor – signs an agreement in which it is to evacuate settlements and give up East Jerusalem? I think that the only question is when violence will break, not if. The same goes for Hamas and the Palestinian society. Imagine what happens the day President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad give up the right of return, or accept the presence of Jewish settlements blocks.
If we are to be serious about these peace talks, it should be understood that there won’t be an agreement and there won’t be peace without Hamas. It’s something most Israelis and even Americans won’t like to hear, but from a Palestinian perspective, Hamas is no different from Likud. Not because it is an extreme movement, but because it’s a well rooted and legitimate political power, too large to be ignored.
I would have loved things to be different. I think Israel should have made a more generous deal with the PLO in the eighties or nineties, so it wouldn’t have to deal now with an Islamic party which has some very radical elements in it. But that’s water under the bridge. Hamas is here to stay, so better have it as part of the political process than as the worlds’ outcast.
Having Hamas won’t be easy. It might make a “final” agreement much harder to get, but the chances of such an agreement to actually work will be much higher.
Niall O’Dowd, the secret conduit between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and the White House in the years 92′-94′, wrote last week in the Huffington Post that an American willingness to talk to Hamas might be the out-of-the-box idea that could jump start a real process, much in the way that the Clinton Administration’s decision to grant Gerry Adams a US visa help convince the IRA to call for a complete ceasefire. I might add that it was a US decision to recognize the PLO in 1988 – when talks with the organizations’ officials were still illegal in Israel – that paved the way for the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the nineties. It’s time for another such bold move.