Ignore Hamas? No Way

Israel needs to follow the lead of Moshe Dayan's experience with Egypt, and extend its hand in peace to Hamas - even if Hamas should refuse.

When foreign minister Moshe Dayan was asked to explain his willingness to make far-reaching concessions to Egypt in order to reach a settlement in 1979, the man that had a few years earlier declared, "Sharm-A-Sheikh without peace is preferable to peace without Sharm-A-Sheikh," explained: "No Israeli government may miss out on an opportunity to make peace with an Arab country. For so many years, we have been declaring that our hand is outstretched in peace and that our neighbors have been rejecting it."

It would be a good idea to bear in mind this position - which led to a historic and extremely favorable breakthrough in Israel's relations with the Arab world - when formulating the approach to be taken toward the new Palestinian leadership led by Hamas. Israel is not stretching out its hand in peace to the Hamas. Instead, it is screaming bloody murder at its success in the elections. This frustrating situation is leading Ehud Olmert's inexperienced government to take a series of steps that are immoral, unwise and futile. The government's petulant rebuffing of the Palestinian government provides yet further proof that anger is a bad adviser.

The outrage among the decision makers in Jerusalem at the results of the election in the Palestinian Authority have them embroiled in internal contradictions, to become involved in confrontations with the international community and to send a message of confusion and disorientation to Israeli society. Ehud Olmert should come to his senses, formulate an action plan that is consistent with his own inner truth and enforce it on his colleagues. That way it will not be necessary to clean up after Tzipi Livni, who with a stridency unworthy of a foreign minister, announced that Mahmoud Abbas is irrelevant; or come out defeated in the competition with Hamas over the support of the international community; or to zigzag on the matter of transferring funds to the Palestinian Authority.

All Israel has to do is declare that it is willing to negotiate for peace with whomever is leading the Palestinians. If the Hamas wants to come to the negotiating table - welcome; if it refuses, it will bear the consequences. The government must sit down quietly and let Hamas sweat with the effort involved in running the Palestinian Authority: to provide the population with bread and employment, to deal with the people's expectations of having prisoners released, to guarantee law and order notwithstanding the activities of the rival militant factions, to contend with Israel's military responses to terror attacks and Qassam rockets, to deal with forceful international responses to unacceptable steps it may take.

The circle of political decision makers in Jerusalem is convinced that that is exactly what they are doing - that they are coolly observing the goings on in the Palestinian Authority without intervening. That is the mistake made by those that have not looked in the mirror. Olmert and his group of ministers and advisers (which includes the chief of staff, the Shin Bet chief, and the professionals in the defense ministry) look more as if they are in a panic rather than as if they are a solid bastion of self-confidence.

The thinking that is guiding them is backward: They believe that Israel can intervene to change the political reality in the Palestinian Authority; they are convinced that Israel's firm rhetoric will convince the world not to topple the wall of illegitimacy that for now has been built around the Hamas; they are motivated by the perception that it is better to take preemptive steps and to forcibly prevent the establishment of a Hamas government, lest it set up a system of rocket launchers in the West Bank similar to the one the Hezbollah set up on Israel's northern border.

It is of course impossible to ignore Hamas' doctrines or the security danger its fundamental approach poses to the State of Israel. The threat presented by a hostile Palestinian Authority state, a protege of Iran, whose behavior is the direct result of its extreme religious outlook must not be taken lightly. Nevertheless, the possibility that a process of mutual recognition between Israel and Hamas will develop, like that between Israel and the PLO, should not be completely dismissed.

One position is unacceptable: a declaration that Hamas is irrelevant. Those that do not want to dialogue with Hamas should get out of the territories and make the new government in Ramallah and Gaza the exclusive internal problem of the Palestinians.