Former defense officials call for indirect talks with Hamas
Former senior defense and security officials have called on the government to conduct indirect negotiations with Hamas on a long-term cease-fire.
Among the signatories of the letter, whose content was made public Friday on Channel 2, were former Mossad head Ephraim Halevi; former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak; Brigadier General (res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip; and MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz), among the architects of the Oslo accords and the Geneva Initiative.
Copies of the letter were sent to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
The letter recommends against a large-scale military operation in Gaza, which the signatories say will end with a cease-fire in any case, but after heavy losses on both sides.
"Recognizing that ending the Hamas regime in Gaza is not a realistic goal and that reinstating Fatah in the Gaza Strip by means of Israeli bayonets is not desirable ... non-public negotiations should take place with Hamas through Egypt or anyone else acceptable to both sides," they wrote.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should be involved in such negotiations, the letter also says. In addition to a long-term cease-fire, the talks should also bring about the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
The writers note that they represent various approaches to the final status agreement, but all agree on the need for a stable cease-fire with Hamas.
The letter also states, "Hamas could prevent the shelf agreement Israel is seeking with the PLO by the end of 2008, by increasing violence from Gaza or actions in the West Bank, and a cease-fire could be the only way to prevent this from happening."
"The letter was sent a month ago," Lipkin-Shahak told Haaretz. "I understand that this is more or less what is happening on the ground, although not because of us. In my opinion it is correct to speak with Egypt to reach a cease-fire with Hamas, on the condition that it includes all the organizations in the Strip and does not apply to the West Bank."
Beilin said he believed Egypt could limit arms smuggling if they were allowed to post more troops on the border.
The writers also said the U.S., which now opposes talks with Hamas - in part because of Israel's opposition - should be called on to assist.