Should Israel Talk to Hamas?

Should Israel Talk to Hamas?

Alan Johnson: Should Israel Talk to Hamas?

Mossad may have assassinated the Hamas leader Mahmud al-Mabhuh, but Efraim Halevy, the Chief of Mossad from 1998-2002, is now calling for Israel to talk to Hamas. Why?

Because, Halevy argues, until Israel negotiates there is no incentive for Hamas to become more moderate, and “attempts to penalize the group with exclusion have failed” so a new “cooptation” strategy should be tried.

Because Fatah can?t deliver anything without Hamas’s agreement and because, anyway, it is “difficult these days to distinguish the PA from its Hamas rivals in the West Bank.” If Hamas could be brought to the table Fatah “would no longer need to worry about the Islamists attacking their credibility.”

Because Israel?s siege of Gaza “fails to acknowledge that Hamas also has a legal responsibility for the well-being of the ever-increasing population there,” and because “Hamas has demonstrated a will and a capacity to think and act pragmatically when it believes it useful or necessary.”

Because once negotiations start we will see how much Hamas “hates the guts” of the Mullahs in Iran and because “Israel?s current Palestinian strategy is not a winning one. It is playing a game with rules that place it at an inherent disadvantage. It must scramble these rules to have a chance. Bringing Hamas to the table would do just that.”

Is Halevy right? Well, there is no doubt that some Hamas spokespeople do speak a political not a cosmic language. In 2008, I wrote at Comment is Free about Holocaust denial at the Al-Asqa TV station. Bassem Naeem, Hamas minister of health and information responded. The Holocaust, he wrote, was “not only a crime against humanity but one of the most abhorrent crimes in modern history.” He assured CiF readers that Hamas is engaged in a strictly political conflict with the Israeli government, not a religious conflict with Jews. Hamas could prove to be good neighbors, he promised. He pointed readers away from its anti-Semitic charter:

“The aims and positions of today’s Hamas have been repeatedly spelled out by its leadership, for example in Hamas’s 2006 programme for government. The conflict is of a purely political nature: it is between a people who have come under occupation and an oppressive occupying power.”

But the question is–how representative are voices like Naeem’s? Significantly, Halevy ends the article by admitting “I could be wrong about all of this.”


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels