The Champions of Missed Opportunities

One day we will wonder why we didn't talk to these Hamas leaders.

The day is approaching when we will long for these Hamasniks. One day we will wonder why we didn't talk to these Hamas leaders. At the same time, we will be faced with much larger threats. It is clear to me that this is a bitter lesson of history.

Sari Nusseibeh gives me a lesson on one chapter of history in his memoir, "Once Upon a Country." His life story, which is written with precise, even noble, elegance, is a mirror of our missed opportunities. It is a rebuttal of the patronizing Israeli assertion that "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

With a sharp pin, Nusseibeh bursts our balloon and says: Here are all the opportunities that the Israelis have missed. When that cursed war ended, the Six-Day War, we immediately expelled the supporters of the Jordanian king, and since then we have never stopped longing for them. We concocted local leaderships to avoid dealing with the nobility of Jerusalem, Ramallah and Nablus, and how much do we today miss Faisal Husseini and other Palestinian leaders who have since come and gone?

Then we declared that "we will never talk to the PLO," and yet, in just a few moments, we won't even be able to talk to them because there will be no one to talk to. And now Hamas is knocking on our door. When will we reach the point where it will be impossible to speak with Hamas' people, only to long for the very few people remaining today? As long as the organization is an inseparable part of the national landscape of the Palestinian people, Hamas members will be tough partners for dialogue. But they are partners for dialogue who exist. And the day Hamas despairs and completely throws in its lot with global radical Islam, we will lose it entirely. Its members are already on the launch pad of their journey to the next fundamentalist galaxy. Yet we still refuse to grasp that a political movement that is part of the regional fabric, whose dimensions remain nationalist for the most part, must be a part of the regional dialogue, even with all the difficulty this entails. And on the day Gaza becomes a stronghold of Al-Qaida and global radical Islam, we will discover that it was Hamas, the Hamas of today, that was not so awful.

The truth is that we refuse to speak with them because we are incapable of speaking with ourselves. Every time we tried to make a mockery of them, we were pulling the wool over our own eyes. There are topics we have no problem discussing with the enemy: hummus, car repair shops and washing the floors. But when it comes to refugees and settlements, we don't have the courage to tell the truth to ourselves, nor are we ready to talk to ourselves about the part of the responsibility we bear for the refugee problem, its marginalization, political exploitation and the fact it remains unsolved to this day.

Nor are we ready to talk about the evacuation of settlers out of fear of the domestic price entailed in pulling out the agents of the occupation. We are incapable of acknowledging the fact that we have become a state of the settlers and that the Israel Defense Forces is the settler defense forces. Because of all these factors we are not talking to any Palestinian about anything of substance.

With Hamas, the conversation will be even more difficult. It will revolve around refugees, settlers, and one other thing: the religious dimension of the conflict. Are we really capable of holding a substantive dialogue about the religious significance of the conflict and the spiritual content of peace, or about how such an inter-religious dialogue will take shape in a time of war, or about the values of such a dialogue in a time of peace? Or about how all of us should put the genie of fanaticism back in the bottle?

Are there enough foundations in our midst that would allow for a non-violent religious protest against the faith-based murderousness that is killing our two nations and religions? For the time being, we don't have any. As a result, we are running away from the encounter, lest we be exposed as mutes or simpletons - or both.