Is Hamas a dialogue partner?
Israel claims that anyone who has contacts with Hamas will do the same with another group calling for its destruction, Islamic Jihad.
The new mayor of Qalqilyah is an avowed member of Hamas, and as such he was elected in May. In effect, he serves as a deputy, because the head of the Hamas list, Wajia Nazal, is in prison in Israel. The acting mayor supports the ideology of Hamas, whose main policy is a war of extermination against Israel. Despite that, he expects Israel to help Qalqilyah to solve its sewage problems. It is doubtful whether he sees the contradiction between his ideology and his expectations of Israel before it is eradicated.
The Israeli response should be: As far as we're concerned, you can drink Qalqilyah's sewage water. Nor do we have to bother to transfer security responsibility for the city - which is located on the border line - to the Palestinians, because the mayor will certainly make sure to nurture terrorists from his organization. We should make sure that the residents of Qalqilyah are aware of the reason for Israel's position. Israel must act in a manner that will persuade the residents to influence what is happening in their city.
The approach of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is different. He is willing to transfer Qalqilyah to the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, along with a warning that the city will be reoccupied if they fire at Israel with steep-trajectory weapons such as mortars.
In several ways, the position of the United States is even firmer than that of Israel. In addition, the Americans are bound by a law prohibiting assistance to a terror organization such as Hamas. Washington will have a problem if money given as aid to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is transferred to a city run by a Hamas member. It makes no difference whether Hamas is, for the moment and for tactical reasons, maintaining a cease-fire as agreed with Abu Mazen. It is clear to Washington, as well as to Israel, that this agreement is very fragile.
The Europeans have recently changed their position regarding Hamas. In the run-up to the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, the European Union last month gave permission to low-level diplomats to have contact with Hamas candidates. "It's to supervise the elections," explain European ambassadors. "It's not a matter of diplomatic negotiations with Hamas, which we also consider a terrorist organization."
The Americans are afraid that the next European step will be a call for contacts with Hezbollah. Israel claims that anyone who has contacts with Hamas will do the same tomorrow with another organization calling for the destruction of Israel, Islamic Jihad. It has been explained to Britain, which has just assumed the EU's rotating presidency, that in this way the Europeans are weakening Abu Mazen.
What should dictate Israel's position is not the elections in the PA. Democracy is an important value, but we must not forget that democracy sometimes brings to power extremist elements that, in a later phase, will be the enemies of democracy.
On the other hand, Israel cannot ignore the changes on the Palestinian side. The Palestinians are progressing toward a society in which there will be two leading parties, Fatah and Hamas. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy was correct in saying that now Hamas is part of the problem, but tomorrow it may change to some extent, and become part of the solution.
Israel went through a similar process with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which in the past called for the destruction of Israel. The PLO was presented with clear conditions when it wanted to establish diplomatic relations with Washington. Those same conditions must be presented to those Hamas members who may claim the adoption of a pragmatic route: forgo terror as a method of solving political conflicts, and recognize the State of Israel. Making concessions on these conditions means conceding on the principles of the peace agreement that Israel has already achieved with the Arabs, and on its right to self-defense.
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