Israelis are Talking to Hamas

First published in Middle East Online


WASHINGTON—There are Israeli Jews who have been talking to Hamas for years, especially Rabbi Menahem Frohman. In fact, there are more Israeli Jews, official and un-official, who would be talking not only to Hamas, but also to Syria and Iran were the White House not pressuring them against dialogue with enemies of Israel. This is unprecedented: a third party, supposedly mediating for peace, that forbids two parties from talking to each other.

Sober intelligence analysts at the highest levels in Israel have been arguing the virtue of negotiation and a process of offers and counter-offers—not because they are nonviolence activists, but because they are realists seeking the path of least resistance to a more stable and safe Middle East. They have every intention of confronting the military threat from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, but through a subtle combination of approaches, not the least of which is negotiation. They understand very well that an offer to an inveterate enemy that does not recognise your existence is not a capitulation, but rather a test. It is a test that will put constructive pressure on radicals to come to the table, or split among themselves. All good news for realists.

There are also religious Israeli Jews who have honed their negotiation skills with Hamas over many years now. Rabbi Frohman, along with Khaled Amayreh, a Hebron Journalist close to Hamas, have come up with a ceasefire that is realistic, but also appealing to the religious frame in which Hamas exclusively operates. This was not an official document, but it has been followed by important statements released by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Syria, regarding interest in an agreement between Hamas and Israel to not target civilians, which would mean an end to suicide attacks. In addition, Meshal has come out with a statement that appears to accept Israel’s existence within the 1967 borders, which appears to meet a major criterion for Western acceptance of Hamas. These are all positive signs, and yet it comes in the midst of military moves by Israel and Syria that are making everyone nervous about a coming confrontation.

This is all the more reason for an aggressive embrace of an agreement with Hamas that would prevent another unnecessary war or outbreak of hostilities.

Here are excerpts from the ceasefire, or hudna, treaty that demonstrate a path toward uniting a cultural and realistic path away from violent solutions to the conflict between Hamas and Israel. The text is framed by quotes that honour the Koran and the Bible:

God is great, and he alone is able to bring a solution to the problems standing between the noble Palestinian people and the venerable people of Israel in the Holy Land….It is possible, based on Jewish and Muslim law alike, to present solutions that will bring divine providence to both noble peoples, since the blessed Lord has bestowed upon them the grace of residing in the Holy Land….Starting from this premise, we seek to establish a truce agreement (hudna) between the Palestinians and the Israelis, based on what we have learned from the Prophets and the Messengers….

According to the agreement, Israel and the Palestinian authorities in Gaza undertake the following:

To end and abolish the sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip in all forms, effective immediately, including the following: Permitting normal economic ties between the Gaza Strip and the outside world; Opening all crossing points between Gaza and the outside world; this includes permitting free movement and flow of goods and services to and from the Gaza Strip….

Undertakings of the Palestinian side: The authorities in the Gaza Strip must take all necessary steps for putting a complete stop to the attacks against Israel….Halting indefinitely all attacks and rocket fire against Israel… stop any attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians… halting suicide attacks aimed at Israeli soldiers or civilians….

The purpose of a parallel process of establishing a Jewish/Muslim ceasefire is not to undermine the secular processes of negotiation, indirect or otherwise, but to build a better atmosphere of trust, and an understanding of what enemies want from each other. This will strengthen moderates in Hamas, like the Minister of Health, and weaken the more extreme voices. It will create confusion among those who are convinced that Jews and Israel will never compromise. With Hezbollah’s victory in Lebanon in recent days we simply cannot ignore such groups anymore if we are to deescalate the dangerous trends of the region. They are facts on the ground, and a hudna will help neutralise the atmosphere of complete war.

Political Islam is a nonnegotiable feature of the Middle Eastern landscape for the time being, but undermining its violent appeal by pursuing a ceasefire and substantive change in the lives of Palestinians is the only rational path to shared safety. This approach respects religious partisans on both sides of the divide, and also provides a practical way out of the current interminable cycle of violence.

Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at GCNews.

© Marc Gopin