Opinion |

Israel Must Talk to Hamas to Break the Cycle of Bloodshed

People who realize that the solution to the conflict is diplomatic, not military, should welcome the understanding that whether we want it or not, Hamas is the only partner for dialogue

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in Gaza City, July 20, 2022.
Members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in Gaza City, July 20, 2022.Credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

A popular joke, paraphrasing playwright Hanoch Levin, says that Israel only has three seasons: summer, elections and war. And like clockwork, before we could say “next year in an apartment with a reinforced room” – the seasonal round of fighting erupted against the Gaza Strip.

It’s hard not to feel trapped in despair by the vicious cycle of bloodshed – when we all already know not only what to do when an air-raid siren sounds, but also exactly how the broadcasts will look, what the newspapers will say, and even how the phases of the battle will look and what will happen in the end.

The main difference between those who despair and those who despair more is between those who still hope the cycle can be broken by purely military means, by magical force of arms – as the ever-changing politicians promise us from time to time – and those who are prepared to concede that diplomacy (or, in whitewashed contemporary language, an “arrangement”) is also needed in an attempt to break the toxic pattern.

In this debate, if one wants to hold on to any optimism, the former seem to be losing. Israel has been trying it their way for years: pounding, assassinating, smashing, and the Gaza Strip just keeps going on. Commanders come and go, but the desire for national independence stays put.

Palestinian medics transport an injured girl to the hospital following a reported Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 6, 2022.Credit: SAID KHATIB - AFP

Because any rational person realizes that you can’t “disappear” the Gazans and Gaza – along with the use of military means it seems that the realization is growing in Israel that a partner needs to be prepared in Gaza.

And so, between one “round” and another, and despite the feeling that the “governments of change” continue to give us more and more of the same, something is changing in the undercurrents: Israel is adopting and reinforcing the understanding that Hamas is the responsible adult in the Strip – vis-à-vis the violent “rogue” Islamic Jihad, which is actually a kind of common enemy.

These days, Israel now seeks to differentiate Hamas more clearly than ever before. Officials at every level are talking about this openly now, both to the camera and off the record. Someone in the Israel Defense Forces even took the trouble to brief Army Radio reporters that the name of the current operation, “Breaking Dawn,” was chosen because of the similarity between the Hebrew word for dawn (shahar) and the word for black (shahor) – an allusion to the black flag of Islamic Jihad.

But in complete contrast to the conspiracy that MK Benjamin Netanyahu’s supporters are attempting to foment at present, that this is some kind of innovation that serves Prime Minister Yair Lapid, this process did not begin during the latter's tenure.

Israel’s efforts to differentiate between Hamas and Islamic Jihad started many years ago, and reached their peak in 2019 when Netanyahu, as prime minister, authorized Operation Black Belt. That operation was clearly aimed at Islamic Jihad targets and was accompanied by similar statements, to the effect that the intent was to cool Hamas down.

This process, of preparing Hamas as a partner for dialogue, was accompanied at the end of Netanyahu’s tenure not only by aiming fire and press briefings at Islamic Jihad, but also in establishing the Qatari financial support pipeline to the Strip.

While it is convenient for Israel to present Egypt as the mediator – in fact, the conversation over the economic and civil rebuilding of Gaza is being conducted with Hamas. Some of the money transferred as part of earlier arrangements was also specifically conditioned on Hamas’ pledge to “restrain” Islamic Jihad.

There are some center-left voters who, in their political battle against Netanyahu, excoriate Likud from the right, of all places, because of this conduct. But people who realize that in the end, the solution to the conflict is diplomatic, not military, should welcome the understanding that whether we want it or not, Hamas is the only partner for dialogue in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu’s problem was that he was afraid to admit that he had abandoned the childish promise to “bring down the Hamas government.” His opponent from the center-left bloc should spur this path onward.

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