The Magic of Hamas

Negotiations with Hamas would only bolster the bluff. If talks ever take place, they will be over cooling tempers and stopping rockets - not a lasting peace.


"Perhaps Israel should now turn to Hamas with a far broader and more daring offer. An offer of a memorandum of understanding that will include a total cease-fire, an end to all terror activities from Gaza and a lifting of the siege." That recommendation was made in Haaretz last week by the author David Grossman. The delusions of a crazy leftist? In an interview published last week in TheMarker Week, Robert (Yisrael ) Aumann, a Nobel Prize-winning expert on rational economics who identifies with the political right posed the question, "why are negotiations conducted with those who aren't powerful? - I'm not in favor of proximity talks at all, but if we are going to do them, let's do so with someone who has something to say." Even Aumann wants to talk to Hamas.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal

The magic of Hamas seems to extend beyond ideological boundaries. The idea that a country that understands only force has to speak only with those who wield power is highly tempting. But this is skewed logic, the kind born of Grossman's real feeling of hopelessness and Aumann's view that an "alliance of strongmen" is the only way to advance one's interests. But when both right and left are both knocking at the door of a given organization, no matter the nature of that organization, it's a clear sign that something is amiss.

The logic of the "strongmen" holds that Israel must stop seeking peace with Syria and settle instead for talks with Hezbollah. It doesn't need peace with Egypt, only quiet from the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, why doesn't Israel hold separate talks with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine? After all, only they have the ability to fight against it.

Even if Hamas were amenable to such talks (and it isn't, just as Israel isn't ), negotiations would not be at all similar to the those Israel held with the Palestine Liberation Organization ahead of the Oslo Accords. Then, at issue was Israeli recognition of the sole representative of the Palestinian people as agreed upon by the international community, the Arab world and most Palestinians themselves. That recognition was aimed at a Palestinian regime that had offered Israel not only a comprehensive peace agreement, one that promised to hold all its constituents to the deal while extending sovereignty over all its territory. The agreement collapsed, but not the mutual recognition of two governments - Palestinian and Israeli.

Israel, however, wants a monopoly on choosing a partner. It refused to recognize the Hamas government that arose in 2006, and later the unity government of Hamas and Fatah, even though it was an elected, representative regime and the only one that can conduct negotiations that would be binding on all the Palestinian factions. The Israeli and American boycott of that same government is the main, if not the only, reason the Palestinian regime was divided in two: Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. For Israelis on the right it was a comfortable solution - waging war on Hamas and perpetuating an "enlightened" occupation on the Palestinian Authority, but not conducting real peace talks with either. Talks, after all, are impossible with Hamas and unnecessary with the PA, the weaker side of the two.

Negotiations with Hamas would only bolster the bluff. If talks ever take place, they will be over cooling tempers and stopping rockets, but offer no diplomatic horizon. When a country that only understands force neutralizes the threat against it, what can persuade it to hold negotiations on withdrawing from the territories?

Talks with Hamas must be conducted by Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. For its part, Israel must encourage intra-Palestinian reconciliation and the creation of a representative Palestinian regime. It must state its willingness to recognize any democratically elected government, and thereby correct the mistake it made in 2006. That is the right path. That's what the United States is doing in recognizing a Lebanese government including Hezbollah ministers, and an Afghan government that includes drug traffickers. Talks must be pursued with Hamas only based on what that regime can offer - the release of Gilad Shalit and an end to rocket fire.