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Hamas: The Last Chance for Peace?

1.

The rising tide of Muslim anger at the US and the West—as recorded by the Pew Poll and other opinion surveys—and the recent successes of political Islam have given many Israelis a newly urgent sense that they are under siege. Sever Plotzker, a well-known Israeli columnist, recently wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most widely circulated newspaper, that

the Palestinian vote connects with the chilling phenomena taking place in the Arab world, whose resonant echoes penetrate every household in Israel…. Israel finds itself an inch away from an erupting volcano, on the frontlines of the “clash of civilization.”1

In Iraq, the Shiite parties defeated not only the Sunnis but also secular political parties; in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representation in the parliament increased fivefold; and in Palestine, legislative elections were swept by Hamas. The anti-Semitic rantings of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government’s determination to develop nuclear weapons have only further exacerbated Israeli fears.

Israel is facing not only the threats of Hamas, an organization that has affirmed the right to violently resist Israel’s occupation and has denied Israel’s right to exist, but also the more general anger from the larger Muslim world toward the West. The two are often conflated, but it is a dangerously misleading conflation, for it gives a confused view of both the dangers and the opportunities created by Hamas’s election victory, however meager the latter may appear to be.

The anger of the Muslim world toward the West is fueled by the humiliations of their Palestinian fellow Muslims who live under Israeli occupation; by what Muslims consider the theft of Palestine, land that is part of Dar al-Islam, the eternal domain of Muslims, in which the West has been complicit; by the war in Iraq and its aftermath; by the horrors that have occurred, and continue to occur, in US military prisons; and by the hypocrisies of America’s plans to install democracy in various parts of the world. This hostility is seen as evidence of the religious and cultural confrontation between Islam and the Christian West that Samuel Huntington has famously argued has become the new global fault line that has replaced the cold war. Paradoxically, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is the lesser of the two threats, because it is political rather than religious in character, and Palestinian society is among the most secular in the Arab world.

Even for Hamas, the national component of its struggle (ironically at odds with the “globalism” of traditional Islam that recognizes no national borders within the Domain of Islam) generally takes precedence over its religious imperatives when the two conflict. This is so not only because most Palestinians oppose Hamas’s religious goals, particularly efforts to regulate their personal religious behavior, but more importantly because Hamas itself is as much a Palestinian national movement as it is a religious one.

In response to a call by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, to Hamas to continue a violent jihad to recover every last “grain of soil from Palestine which was a Muslim land that was occupied by infidels,” a Hamas official pointedly stated that “Hamas believes that Islam is completely different [from] the ideology of Mr. al-Zawahiri.” He added, “Our battle is against the Israeli occupation and our only concern is to restore our rights and serve our people.”2 Now that Hamas has taken control of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the office of prime minister, the difference between Hamas and political Islam outside of Palestine defines what may be an opportunity that only a Hamas-led government may hold for Israel.

In the choice of candidates for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas’s “pragmatists,” led by Ismail Haniyeh, the new prime minister, and Abed al-Aziz Duaik, the new speaker of the council, have visibly prevailed over those who are identified as Hamas’s hard-liners. And many hardliners themselves have adopted an increasingly moderate tone. Even hard-liners know that Hamas won the elections not because of their uncompromising ideology but because they ran on a moderate platform of clean government and better services.3 In a post-election opinion poll, only one percent of the respondents said that Hamas’s priority should be to implement Islamic law in Palestine, while 73 percent said they still supported a peace deal with Israel and a two-state solution.4

If Hamas’s advocates of moderation were to prevail and a long-term coexistence were achieved between a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and Israel, the implications of such an accommodation could be far-reaching indeed—for Israel’s relations not only with the Palestinians but with the larger Muslim world as well. For Hamas’s imprimatur on such an arrangement would provide Israel with an “insurance policy” of the sort that Fatah is not able to provide.

In his recent book, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, Shlomo Ben Ami, a former foreign minister of Israel, writes of Arafat’s passing from the political scene as a “tragedy” because he was “the only man whose signature on an agreement of compromise and reconciliation, which would include giving up unattainable dreams, could have been legitimate in the eyes of his people,” and he took this legitimacy with him to the grave.5 The possibility of an Israeli–Palestinian agreement that enjoys comparable—indeed, perhaps even greater—legitimacy than Arafat could have conferred on it may have been revived by Hamas’s entry into Palestinian political life.

Is such an optimistic outcome at all possible? At the least, it is too early to rule it out before the political and ideological trajectory of Hamas’s new government can be discerned. The likely direction of that trajectory was recently described to me by a prominent senior member of Hamas’s Political Committee in the following terms:

  • Members of Hamas’s political directorate do not preclude significant changes over time in their policies toward Israel and in their founding charter, including recognition of Israel, and even mutual minor border adjustments. Such changes depend on Israel’s recognition of Palestinian rights. Hamas will settle for nothing less than full reciprocity.
  • Hamas is not opposed to negotiations with Israel, provided negotiations are based on the provision that neither party may act unilaterally to change the situation that prevailed before the 1967 war, and that negotiations, when they are resumed, will take the pre-1967 border as their starting point.
  • Hamas will not renounce its religious belief that Palestine is a waqf, or religious endowment, assigned by God to Muslims for all time. However, this theological belief does not preclude accommodation to temporal realities and international law, including Israel’s statehood.6
  • Hamas is prepared to abide by a long-term hudna, or cease-fire, which would end all violence. Here again, complete reciprocity must prevail, and Israel must end all attacks on Palestinians. If Israel agrees to the cease-fire, Hamas will take responsibility for preventing and punishing Palestinian violations, whether committed by Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Intifada, or its own people. Hamas understands that it cannot demand recognition as the legitimate government of Palestine if it is not prepared to enforce such a cease-fire, in the context of its responsibility for law and order.
  • Hamas’s first priority will be to revitalize Palestinian society by strengthening the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers between various branches of government, and the professionalizing and accountability of the security services. It will aim to end corruption in government and implement new economic and social initiatives that are appropriate to the Palestinians’ present circumstances. (My Hamas informant told me that well before the recent legislative elections, Hamas had commissioned teams of experts to prepare detailed plans for the economic and social recovery of Palestinian society; he said that the implementation of these plans would be Hamas’s highest priority, but he did not discuss their content.)
  • Hamas will not seek to impose standards of religious behavior and piety on the Palestinian population, such as the wearing of the veil or the abaya, although Hamas believes that certain standards of public modesty—but not of religious observance—should be followed by everyone.

2.

These views are exceptional only in their comprehensiveness. Similar views have been expressed for some time by other Hamas moderates as well. Ismail Abu Shanab (assassinated by Israel) said that Hamas would halt its armed struggle if “the Israelis are willing to fully withdraw from the 1967 occupied territories and present a timetable for doing so.”7

The Hamas leader Mohammed Ghazal said last year that Hamas’s charter is not the Koran. “Historically,” he said, “we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we’re talking now about reality, about political solutions…. I don’t think there will be a problem of negotiating with the Israelis.”8 It is a sentiment echoed by Hasan Yousif, the Hamas leader in the West Bank who is now in an Israeli jail: “We have accepted the principle of accepting a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.”9

More recently, and by far more importantly, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that not only did he approve a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert but added that if Abbas brings back something that the Palestinian people approved, Hamas would change its positions.

These sentiments are in striking contrast to the odiousness of Hamas’s founding charter (of August 18, 1988), which relies on an extreme anti-Jewish reading of Islamic religious sources and on classical anti-Semitic defamations such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Such hateful language was not entirely absent from PLO documents and statements in its pre-Oslo days, and one can find comparable demonization of Palestinians by some Jewish groups, including official Israeli political parties that advocate ethnic cleansing of all Palestinian residents of the West Bank. As noted by Henry Kissinger in a recent Op-Ed article,10 rejection and demonization are all too common in ethnic and political conflict, as is unexpected moderation by former extremists after they enter a political process and assume responsibility for the well-being of those who brought them to office.

The leaders of Israel’s current government claim that no peace process is possible with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. But some of the best-informed observers of the Israeli– Palestinian conflict believe that no lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible without Hamas’s participation. Nearly three years ago, well before anyone anticipated that Hamas might be running the Palestinian Authority, Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, Israel’s CIA, wrote the following:

Hamas constitutes about a fifth of Palestinian society. Because they are an active, engaged and aware group, they have more political weight. So anyone who thinks it’s possible to ignore such a central element of Palestinian society is simply mistaken. Anyone who thinks that Hamas will one day evaporate is similarly mistaken. Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister] will not kill thousands of Palestinians in order to overcome the Islamic movements. In my view, then, the strategy vis-à-vis Hamas should be one of brutal force against its terrorist aspect, while at the same time signaling its political and religious leadership that if they take a moderate approach and enter the fabric of the Palestinian establishment, we will not view that as a negative development. I think that in the end there will be no way around Hamas being a partner in the Palestinian government. I believe that if that happens there is a chance that it will be domesticated. Its destructive force will be reduced.11

Whatever one’s reading of Hamas’s intentions as it takes over the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, the notion that its sweeping electoral victory spells “the end of the peace process” is nonsense. The peace process died when Sharon was elected prime minister in 2000. More correctly, it was killed—with malice aforethought—by Sharon’s “unilateralism” with which he implemented the disengagement from Gaza, which in turn provided cover for his continued unilateralism. That he was bringing off the disengagement against the wishes of the settlers helped to divert attention from his refusal to have any negotiations with the Palestinians.

Unilateralism continues to serve as the euphemism for Israeli policies that are expropriating half of what was to have been the state of Palestine, and are concentrating the Palestinian population, about to outnumber the Jewish population, in territorially disconnected Bantustans that make a mockery of the promise of an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state made in the “road map” of 2003, which was put forward by the Quartet of the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia.

This unilateralism remains the policy of Kadima, the new party founded by Ariel Sharon, and headed by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which is now forming the next Israeli government. In fact, Kadima’s goal has largely been achieved. According to Haaretz,

The Israeli government has over the last few years, almost totally severed the West Bank from the Jordan Valley and transformed the Jordan Valley into a Jewish region…. Between the eastward expansion of [the large Israeli settlement] Ma’aleh Adumim, the westward expansion of the Jordan Valley communities and the expansion of the settlement blocs toward the Green Line, the Palestinians are left with no territory on which to establish a state.12

Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have led Israel’s international campaign to isolate and bring down Hamas unless it clearly foreswears the right to violent “resistance” to Israel’s occupation and recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Ironically, the appropriateness of both demands is compromised when they are advanced by Olmert and Livni, for both are Likud “princes”—the term applied to politically active sons and daughtersof the founders of the Irgun who owe their positions of leadership in large part to that fact. What distinguished the Irgun was its resort to terrorism in the cause of the Jewish struggle for statehood and its complete rejection of Palestinian claims to any part of Palestine. In these two respects, at least, the Irgun closely resembled Hamas.

Indeed, according to the historian Benny Morris, it is the Irgun that established the precedent of systematically targeting civilians. In his book Righteous Victims, Morris writes that “the upsurge of Arab terrorism in 1937 triggered a wave of Irgun bombings against Arab crowds and buses, introducing a new dimension to the conflict.” While, in the past, Arabs had “sniped at cars and pedestrians and occasionally lobbed a grenade, often killing or injuring a few bystanders or passengers,” now “for the first time, massive bombs were placed in crowded Arab centers, and dozens of people were indiscriminately murdered and maimed.” Morris notes that “this ‘innovation’ soon found Arab imitators.”13

So far as I know, neither Olmert nor Livni have criticized or repudiated the Irgun’s terror activity, which gives their condemnation of Hamas a certain whiff of hypocrisy. This is not to suggest that Hamas’s suicide bombings have been anything less than barbaric (as was the Irgun’s targeting of Arab civilians); and if such terrorist acts are not discontinued this would be a sufficient cause to quarantine the Hamas government and bring it down. It is to say that the Likud’s own history argues that terrorists can transform themselves if they have reason to believe that legitimate national goals can be achieved by political means.

What skills Israeli governments lack in peacemaking have been more than compensated for by their skill in devising new euphemisms intended to deceive their own citizens and many others about what they are really up to. The latest such euphemism is the “conversion of large settlement blocs,” a process of officially integrating large settlements into Israel while withdrawing from others. This will supposedly result in a permanent Israeli border and President Bush’s two-state solution.

Acting Prime Minister Olmert and members of his cabinet now speak frequently about this “conversion.” Israeli commentators are celebrating the defeat of the settlers and the end of their Greater Land of Israel dream. That all of this can be achieved unilaterally by Israel is attributed to Olmert’s clever leadership and to Hamas’s ascendancy, since surely no one could suggest they are likely partners for peace.

In fact, as pointed out by the Haaretz commentator Gideon Levy, “while pundits and opinion polls indicate a shift leftward, with a majority for the establishment of a Palestinian state and evacuation of the settlements, the real political map has taken a sharp turn to the right.” The “new consensus” about keeping the large settlement blocs on Israel’s side of the border comes on top of a previously alleged consensus not to allow Palestinians access to any part of East Jerusalem. The result is a claim that Israel must hold on to Palestinian territories amounting to half the West Bank. And this, Levy notes, is considered in Israel a defeat of the settlers and a move to the left:

Those who say the “Greater Israel vision” has given way to “dividing the land” are deceiving the country. So are those who airily assert that Israelis now recognize the need to end the occupation. The truth is much worse: The Israeli discourse continues to foster Israel’s most deeply rooted national aspiration—to have the cake and eat it.14

None of this is to say that even a genuinely peace-seeking Israeli government would not have reason to fear a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, in view of its formal opposition to the existence of the Jewish state and its resort, until recently, to barbaric suicide bombings. But an Israeli government that values peace above the acquisition of additional territory would not have prepared the ground for a Hamas victory, something that Sharon’s government surely did with its unilateralism. More to the point, it would not have dealt with such fears by threatening to put Palestinians “on a diet.” Dov Weissglas, Olmert’s senior adviser (and previously senior adviser to Sharon), made that humiliating proposal, explaining to his colleagues—who reportedly were greatly amused by his cleverness—that he wanted to help Palestinians lose weight.15

Haaretz contrasts this mocking and contemptuous behavior to Hamas’s behavior, which it describes as “more responsible” than Israel’s government, according to a Haaretz editorial. “[Hamas’s] representatives speak of a new era, of a transition from terror to politics, of continued opposition to occupation via other means, and of aspirations to a long-term hudna.”16

As if determined to confirm Haaretz‘s indictment, the former head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, now a star in the supposedly centrist Kadima party, announced that when the next terrorist act occurs, Ismail Haniyeh would be an appropriate target for assassination by the IDF. Not to be outdone, Israel’s defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, declared afterward that every one of Hamas’s seventy-four newly elected members of the PLC would be candidates for targeted assassination as well.

3.

With rare exceptions, Israelis believe that if Hamas is to be accepted as a “partner for peace,” Hamas must first recognize the State of Israel, since Israel long ago accepted the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. But this is not true. That even so well-informed a journalist as Sever Plotzker believes this lie indicates how deeply it has taken hold of the Israeli imagination. In the article cited previously, Plotzker writes that the basic assumption that has guided Israelis since the Oslo accords is that while they may have a debate with the Palestinian people over borders and Jerusalem, they have no debate over Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish state and the Palestinians’ right to exist as a Palestinian state. According to Plotzker, this fundamental assumption has now been “completely shaken” by Hamas’s victory.

Apparently it has not occurred to Plotzker that “the debate” over borders and Jerusalem is not a rhetorical exercise for Palestinians, who have seen the ground literally removed from under their feet as Sharon’s unilateralism is annexing to Israel large parts of what was to have been the state of Palestine. Plotzker maintains that

The Palestinian people have handed over, through democratic elections, the reins of power to a movement that advocates establishing an Islamic kingdom from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, where the Jews will be permitted to remain as a religious minority with limited rights. This takes us not fourteen years backwards, but one hundred forty years backwards.

In fact, Hamas does not advocate an Islamic kingdom, or caliphate—an al-Qaeda program from which Hamas has explicitly dissociated itself. More to the point, with only minor changes, Plotzker’s statement is one that Palestinians—given their actual experiences since the 1967 war—might make, and with far greater justification than Plotzker:

The Jewish people have handed over, through democratic elections, the reins of power to a movement that is establishing a Jewish kingdom from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, where Palestinians would be permitted to remain a religious minority with limited rights. This takes us not fourteen years but a thousand years backward.

In fact, the State of Israel has enlarged its borders by over 50 percent beyond the areas assigned to the Jewish state by the UN in 1947, while the area assigned to Palestinians has already been diminished by nearly 60 percent—and all of this before any of the settlements and the other Israeli expropriations in the West Bank are taken into account.

If Hamas were to declare that it accepts the legitimacy of Israel, but on only half the territory that made up the Jewish state before the 1967 war, its statement would surely not be taken seriously by anyone in Israel as recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Yet that is exactly what Israelis have found to be an acceptable declaration by their own government with respect to the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, one that obliges Palestinians to recognize not half but all of pre-1967 Israel, and considerably more. That is why Ismail Haniyeh has said that Palestinian recognition of Israel will depend on “what kind of Israel” is demanding that recognition. Is it an Israel within its pre-1967 borders, or is it an Israel that has taken over half of the Palestinians’ remaining territories? If it is the latter, Hamas will not recognize Israel. He added that until Palestinians are told which of these two Israels demands Palestinian recognition, it is not a demand Palestinians need respond to.17

What is unreasonable about such a Hamas position? What is the basis of Israeli and US criticism of a Hamas policy that is the precise mirror image of Israel’s policy toward a Palestinian state? To pose these questions is to recognize what will be the central organizing principle of a Hamas-led government, which is not the removal of the Jewish state, something that various Hamas leaders have already said is not an abiding Hamas principle (and is in any event beyond Hamas’s capacity to achieve—only self-destructive Israeli policies can bring that about), but rather its uncompromising demand for reciprocity.

The demand for reciprocity is also Hamas’s answer to the two other conditions put forward by Israel for dealing with a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas—acceptance of all previous agreements and renunciation of violence. But surely Israelis cannot believe Hamas is unaware that Israel has not accepted its previous agreements with the Palestinians. Whenever speaking of Israel’s alleged acceptance of the road map to President Bush and other international leaders, Sharon invariably added the qualifier “as accepted by Israel’s government,” which at the time of its “acceptance” of the road map added fourteen conditions that gutted its main provisions. For example, the road map explicitly demands that both sides proceed immediately with the implementation of their respective obligations—in the case of Israel, ending settlement construction and removing illegal outposts, in the case of the Palestinian Authority, ending terror—without regard to the state of the other side’s implementation. Israel’s government stipulated that it will not carry out any of its obligations until Palestinians have ended all violence and incitement against Israel and have “dismantled the terrorist infrastructure.”

Not only the European Union but the US government is on record that Israel’s expropriations of large parts of the West Bank violate international law, the road map, and UN resolutions. It was not a Hamas spokesman but Condoleezza Rice who said, at a press conference following her recent meeting in Washington with Israel’s Tzipi Livni, that “the United States position on [Israel’s unilateralism] is very clear and remains the same. No one should try and unilaterally predetermine the outcome of a final status agreement. That’s to be done at final status.” Rice added that President Bush’s letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon endorsing the need to take into consideration “new population centers” in the West Bank does not provide a license for anyone to “try and do that in a preemptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.”18

As to the issue of violence, Hamas declared a “calm” (tahdiyah) over a year ago, and largely observed it, despite Israel’s resumption of targeted assassinations, which Israel had suspended in response to Hamas’s initiative. Hamas has now offered to observe a long-term hudna, and is waiting for an Israeli reply.

Whether or not Hamas disbands its terrorist wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, it is highly likely that a Hamas responsible for governance and the well-being of the Palestinian people will be a very different entity than a Hamas that acts in opposition to a Palestinian government. Hamas is now the government, and it is aware that it cannot govern and act as a terrorist force at the same time.

The truth is that if Hamas were to recognize the State of Israel tomorrow and dismantled its “terrorist infrastructure,” there still would not be the slightest prospect for a resumption of a peace process without major US pressure on Israel and there is little prospect for such US pressure. Israel has gone too far in its unilateralist decisions to suddenly reengage in a peace process that would require Palestinian assent to any continuing Israeli presence in the West Bank. And Hamas would not agree to a peace process that abandons the principle of Palestinian assent established by previous agreements, and reconfirmed by President Bush and the European Council.19

And yet, paradoxically, as a consequence of Hamas’s electoral victory, the possibility of a modus vivendi, and ultimately an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, may have improved rather than receded. Both Hamas and Israel’s government believe their respective interests are best served not by a quick return to a peace process, but by an extended period of unspoken and unacknowledged coexistence. Respite from pressures to resume a peace process would allow Israel to pursue its stated intention of carrying out additional unilateral disengagements from some of the West Bank areas under Israel’s control, thus assuring a Jewish demographic majority on Israel’s side of the border. For Hamas, further Israeli withdrawals would provide the space it requires to resume Palestinian institution building and a rehabilitation of the Palestinian social and economic life that has been destroyed by Israel’s occupation.

For Israelis, a protracted cease-fire would be consistent with Sharon’s insistence that a long-term interim arrangement must precede permanent status negotiations. For Hamas a cease-fire would be consistent with its position that it is not prepared at this time to offer Israel much more than a long-term truce. As Rami Khouri, a leading Lebanese journalist, recently noted, it seems possible that there will be an “accord [between Israel and Hamas] that dares not speak its name,” the title of one of his recent columns.20

If such an informal arrangement holds, it could lead in time to bilaterally negotiated and more openly acknowledged agreements, and perhaps even a peace treaty, but only if several conditions are observed on both sides. Hamas must enforce the truce it has offered, and prevent terrorism not only by its own militants, but by Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Brigades, and other terrorist groups as well. But for Hamas to be able to pull that off, Israel must stop its targeted assassinations and incursions into Palestinian areas. Even more important, Israel must publicly declare that the lines to which it is withdrawing as a consequence of its unilateral disengagements are not permanent borders, which will only be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians. And if such a declaration is to be at all credible, Israel must cease adding to its presence on the West Bank in order to assure the irreversibility of its “temporary” lines.

Ironically, such an arrangement, leaving the door open to a more formal resolution of the conflict some years from now, is probably possible only under a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. For Hamas can credibly explain its acceptance of a transition period as consistent with its ideological refusal to make formal concessions to Israel that are not based on Israel’s recognition of Palestinian rights and on Israeli reciprocity. Meanwhile Hamas can concentrate during this transition period on cleaning the Palestinian stables that have been soiled by Fatah’s corruption. In direct opposition to Fatah’s insistence that the reform of the Palestinian Authority’s institutions must await the creation of a Palestinian state, Hamas, as well as non-Islamic Palestinian reformists, has always maintained that honest and effective Palestinian governance is a precondition for the achievement of Palestinian national goals.

Perhaps expectations of Hamas moderation will turn out to have been mistaken. If so, there will be time enough for Israel and other nations to impose sanctions that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority would then fully deserve. But recent statements by various Hamas leaders about their new priorities strongly indicate that changes in their thinking are already underway. For example, Dr. Nasser Eddin Sha’er, the deputy to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, told Haaretz on March 27 that “the new government does not reject coordination and cooperation to resolve routine problems, with anyone, including Israel.” The haste with which Israel’s government is seeking to discredit and topple Hamas is undermining the possibility of finding out the truth. It also threatens to foreclose what prospects for Hamas moderation may in fact exist.

Israel’s General Shlomo Brom, who until recently served as deputy national security adviser for strategic planning in the IDF, has warned that if the failure of Hamas’s government is brought about by an Israeli policy to isolate Hamas and bring about its downfall, the failure and the hardships suffered by the Palestinian population will not be attributed to Hamas but to Israel and the West. This is likely to widen the rift between the US, the Palestinians, and the Islamic world. On the other hand, an Israeli and Western policy of engagement and negotiation with Hamas could encourage fundamental changes in Hamas’s policies, and eventually in its ideology. One great advantage of a strategy of engagement with Hamas over a strategy of isolating and undermining it is that Israel would be able to move from a policy of engagement to one of confrontation if it becomes clear that engagement has failed. A movement in the opposite direction will not be possible.21 And the cost of failure is likely to be the end of a two-state solution to the conflict, with all that implies for the future of the Jewish state that is situated within a region whose “clash of civilizations” may just be getting underway.

—March 29, 2006

  1. 1

    Sever Plotzker, “Beyond a Bad Dream,” Yedioth Ahronoth, February 26, 2006.

  2. 2

    Associated Press, March 5, 2006.

  3. 3

    Jackson Diehl, “Caught Between Ballots and Bullets,” The Washington Post, February 13, 2006.

  4. 4

    The Palestinian Political Pulse,” Near East Consulting, February 28, 2006.

  5. 5

    Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli–Arab Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 324.

  6. 6

    Both the problem and the solution parallel the situation on Israel’s side. Religious Jews believe that God promised all of Palestine to the Jewish people for all time. And, they will not agree to relinquish that religious claim. However, they are prepared to defer its implementation to a messianic era in God’s own time.

  7. 7

    Matthew Gutman, Nina Gilbert, and Herb Keinon, “Hamas Official Has a Vision of Living Next to Israel,” The Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2003.

  8. 8

    Hamas: We’ll Rethink Call to Destroy Israel,” Reuters/Yedioth Ahronoth, September 21, 2005.

  9. 9

    Enter Hamas: The Challenges of Political Integration,” International Crisis Group, Middle East Report No. 49, January 18, 2006, p. 21.

  10. 10

    Henry Kissinger, “Sharon’s Legacy and Hamas,” International Herald Tribune, February 15, 2006.

  11. 11

    Ari Shavit, “The Waiting Game” (interview with Ephraim Halevy), Haaretz, September 4, 2003.

  12. 12

    Obsolete Security Asset,” Haaretz, February 14, 2006.

  13. 13

    Benny Morris, Righteous Victims (Vintage, 1999), p. 147.

  14. 14

    Gideon Levy, “A New Consensus,” Haaretz, March 19, 2006.

  15. 15

    Gideon Levy, “As the Hamas Team Laughs,” Haaretz, February 19, 2006.

  16. 16

    Diet Instead of Wisdom,” Haaretz, February 21, 2006.

  17. 17

    We Do Not Wish to Throw Them into the Sea,” The Washington Post, February 26, 2006.

  18. 18

    Remarks with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni After Their Meeting,” State Department transcript from Rice–Livni joint press conference in the Benjamin Franklin Room, Washington, D.C., February 8, 2006.

  19. 19

    President Bush welcomes Palestinian President Abbas to the White House,” transcripts of joint press conference in the Rose Garden, White House Press Releases, May 26, 2005; Presidency Conclusions of the Brussels European Council (March 25–26, 2004), Section V, Nos. 53–54.

  20. 20

    Rami G. Khouri, “Accord That Dares Not Speak Its Name,” The Daily Star(Beirut), March 8, 2006.

  21. 21

    Shlomo Brom, “A Hamas Government: Isolate or Engage?,” United States Institute of Peace briefing, March 2006.

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